I compared the Steelers 2008 defense with the Ravens' 2000 defense in 17 different statistical catagories. I do believe that I may need to dig deeper for more stats, but this is a start. That said, here are the results...
'08 Steelers '00 Ravens
3rd down % 31.0 26.0
Avg yds/play 3.9 4.3
Total TD's all.
(ru, pa) 19 16
Total FG's all. 24 14
Games w/ 1 or 0 TD's
all.* 11 12
Sacks 51 35
Int's 20 23
QB rating 63.4 62.5
QB comp. % 56.0 55.9
(gross) 178.81 198.44
Total yds/game all. 237.19 247.94
Pa yds/game all. (net) 156.94 187.32
Ru yds/game all. 80.25 60.62
Avg yds/ru all. 3.3 2.69
Forced Fumbles 12 19
Strength of schedule 133-120-1 109-147-0
Opp. time of poss. 28:41 25.48
*This is rush and pass TD's only. All return TD's are excluded as these are not TD's scored on the defensive units.
The leader in each catagory is in red.
It is interesting to note that the '08 Steelers did face a much tougher schedule than the Ravens did in '00. Their opponents won a total of 133 games in '08, a total of 24 more than the Ravens' opponents won in '00. This translates to the Steelers' opponents finishing, on average, 1-1/2 games better than the Ravens' opponents finished with in '00. In '08, their opponents finished with an average of 8.31 wins. The Ravens' opponents finished with an average of 6.81 wins in '00. The Ravens' opponents had the following rankings in offense in the year 2000: 7, 7, 11, 12, 14, 14, 18, 18, 24, 25, 26, 28, 29, 29, 31, and 31. Here are the Steelers' opponents' offensive rankings in 2008: 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, 15, 18, 18, 19, 20, 21, 31, 31, 32, and 32. Clearly by looking at those numbers, the Steelers played against many more good offensive units, and didn't play nearly as many inadequate units as Baltimore did. Half of Baltimore's games were against teams that ranked 24th or worse offensively, while Pittsburgh had only four games vs such opponents. The '08 Steelers played better teams, and this is not even debatable.
Baltimore has a significant advantage in FG's allowed, yielding only 14 successful kicks. This is especially amazing when you consider the fact that Hollis from Jacksonville kicked 5 in one day. So in 15 games, the Ravens' opponents mustered only 9 FG's and 13 TD's (this is nothing short of amazing). Apparently, they couldn't even get in FG range much of the time (Ravens' opponents only attempted 19 FG's all year). However, Mark Brunell did light them up for 386 yds that day. Pittsburgh never had such a letdown in '08. Not once. The postseason is a different story. Kurt Warner threw for 377 yds in Super Bowl XLIII against the Steelers. Now this discussion does not take into account the postseason. However, I did feel the need to mention that. The Cardinals were ranked 4th offensively in '08 while Brunell's Jaguars in 2000 were ranked 7th.
Equally impressive is the number of sacks the Steelers posted in comparison to the Ravens' team (51 to 35) as well as the number of forced fumbles the Ravens had in '00 (19). The Steelers hold a considerable edge in net passing yds allowed, a difference of about 30 yds/game, while the Ravens have a considerable edge in rushing yds allowed, about 20 yds/game. However, the Ravens' opposing QB's were the likes of Jay Fiedler, Kent Graham, Akili Smith, Doug Pederson, Scott Mitchell, and Ryan Leaf. Baltimore didn't have to respect the pass. To be fair, they also played Aikman, McNair twice, and Brunell twice. Throw Jake Plummer in there if you want. You get the picture. Oh... and Vinny Testaverde threw for 481 on them while the Jets totaled 524 yds. The Steelers played McNabb, Eli and Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers, Brady, and Tony Romo among others. And the Steelers still posted better numbers against the pass. Other than that (and the sacks and FG's), the numbers are pretty comparable. It should also be noted that the '08 Steelers hold a 10 yd advantage in yds/game allowed even with the better competition. This, after all, is the stat used to rank defenses throughout the year.
So what have we learned? Can the two defenses really even be compared due to the difference in competition?
The fact is, many people really don't realize that the Ravens weren't even the number 1 ranked defense in 2000. And they are very quick to mention them as one of the best defenses ever. As they should. However, after a closer look, the numbers I just presented indicate that the 2008 Steelers were just as good if not better.
Either way, I wouldn't want to side with either team and tell James Harrison or Ray Lewis that the other team was better. I like my limbs where they are... attached to my torso.