Why the Pittsburgh Steelers Defense Can Be Better Than 2008 Counterpart

Bill KostkasContributor IISeptember 22, 2010

NASHVILLE, TN - SEPTEMBER 19:  Troy Polamalu #43 of the Pittsburgh Steelers intercepts a pass in the end zone intended for Nate Washington #85 of the Tennessee Titans  during the first half at LP Field on September 19, 2010 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
Grant Halverson/Getty Images

I think all of us can agree on one thing when it comes to why the Steelers are 2-0 without Ben Roethlisberger. I'm not going to beat around the bush. I'll just put it as simple as Lee Flowers did years ago and say Big Nasty D.

The defense played a beautiful football game in Tennessee on Sunday. They looked like they were playing with a purpose. It's not just Sunday's game against the Titans either, they played extremely well last week against the Atlanta Falcons.

So, naturally I wanted to compare their pace with the 2008 Super Bowl XLIII championship defense through their first two games.

After facing Houston and Cleveland they gave up a total of 393 yards and snatched five turnovers. So far in 2010, they have allowed 533 yards to Atlanta and Tennessee and have eight turnovers. That ends up being a yardage difference of 140, but more than half of that difference came during garbage time this past Sunday when Tennessee drove down the field to score their only touchdown of the game.

In terms of getting to the quarterback, the 2008 bunch had seven total sacks. Through two games right now, they have six, only one off pace. Despite, the minute disparity in the numbers I think this defense is playing much better than the 2008 team was this early in the year.

Don't forget that the Titans were c0ming into the game having put up 38 points on the Oakland Raiders. Also, Atlanta, who the Steelers held to nine points last week scored 41 against Arizona this week. So it wasn't exactly a couple of slouches the Steelers were dealing with.

Troy Polamalu has two huge interceptions so far this year, which puts him on pace to double his interception total from 2008. If you can remember back two years ago, you'll recall his interception of Derek Anderson in the red zone late in the first half.

We all knew how important he was to the rest of the secondary. Just look at how the other defensive backs are performing. Last week against Atlanta Bryant McFadden was given the job of covering Pro Bowler Roddy White.

Surprisingly, McFadden was on White all day long. White was targeted 23 times, which is just over half of Matt Ryan's 44 pass attempts. McFadden was able to hold him to just 11 catches. Many Steeler fans weren't able to decipher this since they quickly dismissed McFadden's excellent game, but he did have tight coverage on almost every throw his way and kept White from snagging half of the balls that were thrown to him.

Another big thing I noticed was the presence of Aaron Smith. We all know what happened in 2007 when he was out for the majority of the season and how his absence last year only contributed to their collapses in the fourth quarter.

I'm not saying that he was the only reason the Steelers were able to bottle up Chris Johnson this week who was coming into the game having rushed for 100 yards in twelve-straight games. After lighting up Oakland last week, he was held to 34 yards on totes of the rock.

Smith's presence stabilizes the front three for this team. He just adds that much more bulk for opposing offensive lines to deal with.

If Smith and Polamalu can stay healthy, I strongly expect this unit to continue on the pace of their 2008 counterparts.