NFL Predictions for 2010 Season: Pittsburgh Steelers Defense

Charles HoweCorrespondent IAugust 13, 2010

TAMPA, FL - FEBRUARY 01:  The Pittsburgh Steelers defense huddles up in the third quarter against the Arizona Cardinals during Super Bowl XLIII on February 1, 2009 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

The Steelers touted the best defense of the past decade and look poised to dominate this decade as well. Since the 2004 season, the Steelers defense has finished ranked fifth or higher in all except for the 2006 season in which they finished ninth. The Steelers are returning ten of eleven starters from last year’s fifth ranked defense. They have also brought back two starters from the Super Bowl XLIII Championship team that had ventured to other teams for the 2009 season. Here is what you can expect from the Steelers defense this season:

Defensive Line: Aaron Smith will start at left end with Casey Hampton starting at nose tackle and Brett Keisel starting at right end. Expect to see Ziggy Hood more frequently in his sophomore season. If he shows enough progress, he may be a starter on the aging D-line by the end of the season. Aaron Smith is returning from a season shortened by injury. Smith will contribute three or four sacks this season provided that he stays healthy. Casey Hampton’s main job is to occupy two blockers to free up the linebackers to make tackles. He has proved to be more than capable of fulfilling this task. I expect Brett Keisel to kick in a couple sacks. The defensive line never leads the team in stats, but they are very integral to the Steelers’ elite defense.

Linebackers: The starting outside linebackers will be Lamar Woodley and James Harrison. James Farrior and Lawrence Timmons will be the starters at inside linebacker. Larry Foote is back from Detroit and will see some time at inside linebacker. I expect Harrison and Woodley to combine for 25 sacks and 7 forced fumbles this season.  Lawrence Timmons and James Farrior will contribute at least 180 tackles, 10 sacks, and a pair of interceptions. The linebackers are the stars of this defense; Pittsburgh’s defense lives and dies at linebacker.

Defensive Backs: Ike Taylor and Bryant McFadden will be the starting cornerbacks with Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark as the starting safeties. I expect the secondary to intercept at least 14 passes this season. Troy Polamalu will be responsible for eight of those picks as long as he stays healthy this year. Troy is the linchpin of the defense; if he has another injury shortened season, the Steelers will be hard-pressed to make the playoffs. Ryan Clark will continue to lay the wood to receivers coming across the middle, while Ike Taylor will shutdown the opposition’s top receiver. The only two things separating Taylor from the Pro Bowl are his hands of stone. Bryant McFadden, returning from Arizona, will solidify a pass defense that was shaky last season. William Gay, the starter from last season, will be relegated back to nickel back, a position for which he is more suited. The defensive backs will not allow fourth quarter leads to slip away this season.

We can expect the Steelers to return to the top spot in overall defense this season with top-five performances in both run defense and passing defense. All eleven starters from the 2008 team that dominated the league are back. If the defense can help the Steelers win a few games during Roethlisberger’s suspension, the Steelers chances of making the playoffs will be greatly improved.