Steelers D wilts without Polamalu

Having a healthy Troy Polamalu on defense is akin to having 12 defenders on the field. Chris Morrison/US Presswire

Despite four touchdowns from Ben Roethlisberger and a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter, the Pittsburgh Steelers fell to the Oakland Raiders 34-31 on Sunday. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin looked on helplessly as his defense allowed the Raiders to score three touchdowns and two field goals on their final five drives.

It was so bad that Tomlin ordered his offense to go for it on fourth-and-1 with less than four minutes to go in a tie game at his own 29-yard line. Failure would have handed the ball to Oakland in field goal range, but Tomlin apparently felt that if he punted, he couldn't trust his defense to get a stop. The Steelers picked up the first down, but the drive later stalled and Pittsburgh punted on fourth-and-9.

Oakland promptly drove 49 yards for the winning field goal as time expired, proving that Tomlin's lack of faith in his defense was justified. While the loss was obviously disappointing for Tomlin and the Steelers, it shouldn't have been terribly surprising, because Troy Polamalu was in street clothes. When Polamalu is on the field, the Steelers play defense as well as any team in football. Without him, they suddenly become very vulnerable.