We are now in the part of the football season where teams are re-tooling and making changes to their rosters and coaching staffs in an effort to win a championship. If they are going to copy a successful team (and this is a copy cat league), they would be well served by copying the Pittsburgh Steelers.
In an age of high-flying offenses, when it comes to winning championships, and winning in general in the NFL, the teams with the better defenses come out on top more. If you're trying to build a winner, it makes sense to focus on your defense rather than the other way around.
Many will point to the Rams Super Bowl teams, last years Patriots, and the Colts as teams that were better on offense than defense and were successful. Keep in mind these teams had all-world hall of fame quarterbacks to lead them and there are not enough of those to go around.
You do need a good or great quarterback to get to the top of the NFL, but if you can't stop anyone it may not matter.
The Patriots saw an undefeated season go down the tubes because they could not over-come the Giants relentless defensive line. New England's defense has gotten old the last couple of years, and no matter how good their offense was they have not been able to squeeze a championship out of it the last couple of years.
The Colts did get their championship, but their high-octane offense has been shut down in key playoff games, especially on the road in previous years. Even though they have been consistent winners, they are more dangerous when their defense is playing at a high level.
The Rams also had their day in the sun but haven't been heard from since their Super Bowl defeat to the Patriots.
The easiest road to a championship in the NFL is having a stout defense, and an offense that can make plays every now and then and not turn the ball over, as well as having a good quarterback. The Super Bowl champion Steelers are a good example.
Their success is built around their defense, and it always has been. They feed off of what Dick LeBeau does on his side of the ball. Playoff football is more times than not about the weather conditions in the winter, and many a good offense has come to a screeching halt under less than perfect conditions.
A good defense and a little bad weather is a recipe for disaster for a team built on a flashy offense. Pittsburgh's opponents fizzled under the pressure of their defense, and the frosty weather conditions in Steel City.
First they stop the run and make you one dimensional, then they pressure you into making mistakes that make it easy for their offense to score.
Casey Hampton, Aaron Smith, and Brett Keisel do an excellent job of occupying the offensive linemen while the linebackers clean up and make plays. You don't hear their names often, but if you are building a defense you have to have defensive lineman that don't get blown off the ball.
It is very rare that a team runs effectively on Pittsburgh.
Some may point to the number of yards the Cardinals racked up against them, but you have to look a little deeper. Pittsburgh's strategy was to give up yards via the pass underneath, but prevent the big plays down the field Arizona has been living on in the playoffs.
The Steelers hoped that the more Warner threw, the more chances there would be for mistakes and turnovers. The strategy worked to perfection in the first half, and it was Dick LeBeau's ability to disguise what they were doing on defense that resulted in James Harrison's game changing play at the end of the second quarter.
The Steelers made a couple of lapses on defensive in the second half when Larry Fitzgerald got loose, but you just had the feeling that if the game went to over-time Pittsburgh's defense would have stepped up if they had to.
Pittsburgh relies on their linebackers most of all. Dominating defenses have to have playmakers at that position. They have to be able to cover, pursue effectively all over the field, pressure the quarterback, and basically disrupt everything the offense is trying to do.
It is no secret that the AFC Championship came down to the teams with the two best defenses. The Ravens defense is just as mean and nasty as Pittsburgh's and they boast play-makers at linebacker and in the secondary. The defenses are mirror images of each other.
The biggest difference in the two teams is the quarterbacks and the offenses. The Steelers have a seasoned Super Bowl quarterback, while the Raven have a rookie quarterback (Joe Flacco) that they don't trust to win a game for them.
In the secondary, any great defense will have a safety that can make plays in coverage, step up and stop the run, and read where the quarterback is going with the ball. Troy Polamalu and Ed Reed instantly come to mind, but most of your good defensive teams boast a play making, hard hitting safety.
Polamalu is all over the field at times and has excellent instincts in terms of reading where the quarterback is going with the ball. He may be the most important player in terms of what they do on defense.
There are times he plays center field and helps the corners in coverage, and times he is one on one with the tight end, as well as singled up on a slot receiver.
He also blitzes and is tough on the run. The Steelers don't have a shut down corner, and theirs are average, but the fact that Polamalu is back there it makes them that much better.
A general manager would be well served to look at what Pittsburgh has done, predominately through the draft and an occasional free agent signing. It almost doesn't matter what kind of offense they have because they will be competitive because their defense will keep them in games.
It is still an amazing feat that the Steelers had the most difficult schedule in the league, went through the playoffs, and won a Super Bowl, and had one of the most ineffective offensive lines in the league.
Ben Roethlisberger was sacked more than anyone else and their running game was definitely not Steeler-like this year, but they still won. That tells me a lot about their defense, and that you can win without a top-notch offense, but you better be able to get stops when you need to.
There is one thing you can say about Big Ben and the Steeler offense this year. They were clutch. When they needed to make a drive with the game on the line, they did. They didn't light up the scoreboard, but they performed when they had to. Just as Baltimore and Arizona.
The quickest and surest way to a build championship team? Start with your defense, then groom a franchise quarterback.
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