The NFL defensive player of the year award doesn't always go to the best player. There are plenty of examples in which the award went to the defender who put up the best numbers or who stayed completely healthy in a given season.
This season was different. Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu didn't put up off-the-chart numbers nor did he stay healthy for a full 16-game season. But Polamalu was the league's best defensive player.
That is why The Associated Press made the right choice by naming Polamalu the 2010 defensive player of the year. Polamalu was the most valuable defender in the NFL, and that was proven on the field and through injury.
When big plays needed to be made, Polamalu was there. He carried the team with numerous big plays to help Pittsburgh to a stellar 3-1 start while quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was suspended. Polamalu also forced a huge fumble against Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco that locked up the No. 2 seed and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
The Steelers were just 1-1 in their two games without Polamalu (Achilles), which included a key loss to the New York Jets in Week 15. But that probably helped his case more than it hurt. Pittsburgh proved this season it can win without Roethlisberger. But last season showed the Steelers can't win without Polamalu.
Linebackers Clay Matthews of the Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh's James Harrison both had great seasons. The numbers were there. Polamalu's stats (63 tackles, seven interceptions) were nothing to sneeze at, but it was the timing of the plays that mattered most.