View Full Version : This year’s Steelers defense is good — perhaps great

01-25-2009, 02:14 AM
This year’s Steelers defense is good — perhaps great


T he great defenses in NFL history need little introduction: The ’85 Bears … the Purple People Eaters … Doomsday … the 2000 Ravens.

A fan held a sign at Heinz Field proclaiming: “Steel Curtain II.”

That’s no exaggeration.

The famed Steel Curtain defense of the 1970s helped Pittsburgh win four Super Bowls over a six-year span. It also produced four Hall of Famers: defensive tackle Joe Greene, linebackers Jack Ham and Jack Lambert, and cornerback Mel Blount.

But the current defense, which was the foundation for the 2005 Super Bowl champion Steelers, is certainly comparable, and, in time, might prove to be even better.

Heresy? Lunacy?

Consider some numbers:

The 2008 Steelers ranked first in the league in scoring defense, allowing 223 points, and also were top-ranked in total defense and pass defense. They finished second to Minnesota in run defense, which kept them from becoming the first team to lead the league in all four categories since the 1970 merger.

The last team to do so was the 1969 Chiefs, who led the AFL in those departments on the way to winning Super Bowl IV.

The 13.9 points per game allowed by the Steelers — in a season when leaguewide scoring was at its highest since 1965 — was barely a field goal more than the club-record 9.8 established by the 1976 Steelers.

This year’s team yielded 237.2 yards per game and 3.9 yards per play — the fewest of any NFL team since 1978. Those totals trail the’74 Steelers champions, who set club records of 219.6 and 3.6 but were better than the ’75, ’78 and ’79 champions.

“I thought this defense is a better defense than the one in the ’70s,” said former Dallas Cowboys personnel director Gil Brandt, whose team lost 21-17 to Pittsburgh in Super Bowl X and 35-31 in Super Bowl XV.

“The numbers are very similar. But today, it’s a lot harder to play defense than it was back then. People were not nearly as sophisticated then as they are now. You didn’t see 19 different offensive formations on the first 22 plays of a game. And the rules are different. Early in the ’70s, you could karate-chop receivers down the field as long as you were in front of them. You could press them all the way down the field.”

It was after the 1976 season, when the Steelers had pitched five shutouts in their last eight games (allowing 3, 16 and 3 in the others) but lost in the AFC championship game, that the NFL adopted rules to open up the passing game and cut down on injuries, including allowing defenders to make contact with receivers only once.

The two best defenses since the rules changes, the 1985 Chicago Bears and 2000 Baltimore Ravens, allowed fewer points than the current Steelers. The Ravens allowed just 10.3 points per game, breaking the Bears’ mark of 12.4 for a 16-game season. But each team surrendered more yards per game and per play than the 2008 Steelers.

“The Steelers’ defense this year is ranked No. 1, and deservedly so, and not just on statistics but on the ability to make big plays when the game is on the line. That’s one of the things our ’76 team could do,” said former Steelers linebacker Andy Russell, a seven-time Pro Bowler in the 1970s.