The Steelers' defense is consistently ranked among the league leaders in most defensive categories. They have been ranked first in total defense three of the past five seasons including the past two.
The Steelers' number one ranked unit racked up some impressive numbers against the league's toughest schedule. They could feast upon a somewhat easier schedule this season. They will try to become the first team since the Chicago Bears of 1984-86 to lead the league in total defense three straight years.
The losses of starters Bryant McFadden and Larry Foote are offset by the promotions of William Gay and Lawrence Timmons into the starting lineup. Gay played very well in place of the injured McFadden last season. Timmons, who will be replacing long time starter Larry Foote, is a playmaking machine who showed flashes of his big play ability in limited action this past season.
LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison make up the most prolific sack tandem in the league. They both turned it up another notch in the postseason, as Woodley showed what he is capable of with multiple sacks in each of the Steelers' playoff games. He is a proven Big Game player, and his game-changing capabilities are key to a championship caliber team.
Harrison has also shown a knack for making timely big plays in the biggest games. His interception return for a touchdown in the Super Bowl was the game-changing play the Steelers desperately needed at the time. These two set a Steelers' record for combined sacks in a season with 27.5 and could possibly eclipse that total this season.
They improved the team sack total by 15 over the previous season and with it, the secondary benefited. The Steelers' interception total jumped from 11 to 20, and the pass defense gave up 20 fewer yards per game over the previous season.
The Steelers will need the defense to be dominant again this season if they are to contend with the high powered offenses in the AFC. The Patriots, Colts, and Chargers all loom as possible playoff opponents and all three are fully capable of lighting up a defense.
Tom Brady's Patriots have been a particularly stubborn thorn in the side of the Steelers. They need only look to their recent struggles against Brady for further evidence that they cannot afford a letdown this year if they entertain thoughts of a repeat as Super Bowl champions.
The Steelers seldom have gotten sufficient pressure on Brady and have yet to figure out the riddle of how to contain the league's top quarterback.
I am intrigued by the possible postseason matchup against their old nemesis New England in a showdown that would pit the decade's two most successful teams with respect to Super Bowl triumphs. It could determine once and for all which team will be remembered as the team of the decade.
With the experience of the 2006 season behind them, I expect the Steelers to lock horns with New England for a chance at Super Bowl win number seven.
I just hope the defense is up to the task. I believe they will be.