FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Gone are some of the familiar faces on the Pittsburgh Steelers' defense, as James Harrison is now in Cincinnati and James Farrior is in his second year of retirement, but the back end of the defense remains intact, led by safety Troy Polamalu, now in his 11th NFL season.
While some would suggest Polamalu's play has slipped as he's aged into his 30s, it's clear that he remains a focal point for the New England Patriots' offense this week as the unit prepares for a Sunday showdown.
"He is super-instinctive," tight end Rob Gronkowski said of Polamalu. "It's just unbelievable, the knack he has for the game of football. The way he busts into a gap, you don't know what gap he's going to bust in. He can come flying down into the line. He's an unbelievable player and you've got to watch out for him and watch out for him on every play."
"You just can't take him for granted," echoed quarterback Tom Brady. "You have to keep your eyes out and keep your eyes open for him and then hope you get a guy to block him. He's a great player."
Both Gronkowski and Brady stressed that part of the challenge in preparing for Polamalu is accounting for his ability to seemingly come out of nowhere.
"He's not really in a system where there's clearly defined roles," Brady said. "He's just a playmaker for them, so you know, you have to account for him on every play, you can't just go, 'Well, he's going to be here.'"
"He's a rare player," added Gronkowski. "You just watch film on him, see how he does it, you just prepare, think of different scenarios of stuff and what he can do. He's a great player."