In 2008, the Pittsburgh Steelers won the Super Bowl. Their defense was the shining light while their offense ranked 20th out 32 teams in points scored. In 2009, the Steelers’ offense ranked a formidable 12th yet the team missed the playoffs.
This year, behind a defense that ranks 1st in points allowed, the team has started off 2-0 playing the
type of football that Pittsburgh has grown accustomed to.
This is one of the first defenses that I can remember that enjoys being out on the field more than their offense. Most defenses struggle if the offense is inept (see Oakland Raiders) but that is not the case with the Steelers. They play better as the offense plays worse and a lot of it is due to the mentality and consistency of Pittsburgh football. Pittsburgh as a town and in terms of the Steelers are known as hard-nosed and no nonsense people that rely on anonymity and getting the job done.
How has this defense been so successful yet most of their players are relative no-namers? The answer is consistency. The Steelers’ defense has more or less been the exact same since 2008. Since 2008, only one player out of the top 15 tacklers is currently playing on a different team. Deshea Townsend spent his first 12 years with the Steelers before packing up and moving to the Colts before this season. Other players such as Larry Foote and Bryant McFadden saw that the grass was not greener on the other side and has since returned to Pittsburgh while Travis Kirschke retired after the 2009 campaign. James Farrior, Super Bowl hero James Harrison, Casey Hampton and others have created a defense known more for the name on the front of the jersey than the names on back.
In 2009, the Steelers were missing some key defensive players. Troy Polamalu played limited time in 2009 after being injured in week 1 of last season. Without Polamalu, the team limped to a 9-7 record and struggled in the secondary.
Another player and maybe the most underrated player in the NFL, Aaron Smith tore his rotator cuff in week six. Aaron Smith is an ideal 3-4 defensive end because not only can he rush and get to the quarterback but he clogs up holes and most times must be double teamed, allowing the linebacking core of Harrison, Farrior, LaMarr Woodley, and Lawrence Timmons to roam free and tackle opposing players.
This season, the defense has played a particularly important role. The offense came into this season minus two important playmakers from the 2008 and 2009 seasons. Ben Roethlisberger, after numerous offseason run-ins with the law, is suspended for the first four games of the current season. Santonio Holmes was sent to the New York Jets for a fifth round draft pick in the offseason in a trade that shocked not only the NFL but also the Steelers’ fans.
Ever since Jerome Bettis retired, the Steelers have moved from running back to running back. Willie Parker, a fast and elusive running back who did not seem to fit the Steelers’ style of play, found success up until 2009 when he split time with Mewelde Moore. After that year, Pittsburgh drafted Illinois running back Rashard Mendenhall in 2008 with the 23rd pick.Mendenhall is the perfect
combination of speed, elusiveness, and power that the Steelers need to continue their successful ground attack.
Dennis Dixon has not played great by any measure but has shown the ability to control the offense and hand the ball off. This is all this defense needs because the more pressure that is put onto them means the better they play. This defense is not one that will have someone come dancing out of the tunnel like Ray Lewis and the Ravens. This is not a defense that will have a”Lights out” dance like Shawne Merriman. This is not a team that will celebrate after every incomplete pass like the secondary for the Cincinnati Bengals. This is a professional defense that prevents teams from scoring and takes pressure off of the offense.
This defense had 7 turnovers last week against a potent Tennessee Titans offense. They held the best running back in the game, Chris Johnson, to 34 yards. James Harrison picked up Vince Young and tossed him around like a rag doll.
The Steel Curtain is back to their 2008 Super Bowl Champions form and the league needs to take notice. Roethlisberger will be back after four weeks but it may not make much of a difference because a defense this stout needs only a few good offensive plays to be successful. Hey Pittsburgh, start smiling because this defense is scary good.