While there will be plenty of stories this week about the Steelers defense, a win over the Cardinals next Sunday in Super Bowl XLIII will bring up an interesting question – is this the greatest Steelers defense ever? Yes, the defense of the 70’s holds a dear place in all of our hearts, and the nickname the “Steel Curtain” will also be a favorite nickname of Steelers fans forever, but let’s start to throw some numbers out there.
This years Steelers ranked first in the league in scoring defense, allowing just 223 points, and also were top-ranked in total defense and pass defense. They finished second to Minnesota in run defense, which kept them from becoming the first team to lead the league in all four categories since the 1970 merger. The 13.9 points per game allowed was barely a field goal more than the club-record 9.8 established by the 1976 Steelers.
This year’s team yielded 237.2 yards per game and 3.9 yards per play — the fewest of any NFL team since 1978. Those totals trail the’74 Steelers champions, who set club records of 219.6 and 3.6 but were better than the ’75, ’78 and ’79 champions. So, again – will this teams defense go down as the best ever? I think it’s time to start considering that. Of course you can ask a guy who knows about those Steelers defenses all too well, and he thinks that this year’s version is pretty darn good.
“I thought this defense is a better defense than the one in the ’70s,” said former Dallas Cowboys personnel director Gil Brandt, whose two Cowboys teams lost in Super Bowl X and Super Bowl XV to the Steelers. “The numbers are very similar. But today, it’s a lot harder to play defense than it was back then. People were not nearly as sophisticated then as they are now. You didn’t see 19 different offensive formations on the first 22 plays of a game. And the rules are different. Early in the ’70s, you could karate-chop receivers down the field as long as you were in front of them. You could press them all the way down the field.”
Two other defenses that will challenge this years Steelers as the Best Ever will be the 1985 Chicago Bears and 2000 Baltimore Ravens. Both those teams allowed fewer points than the 08 Steelers. The Ravens allowed just 10.3 points per game, breaking the Bears’ mark of 12.4 for a 16-game season. But each team surrendered more yards per game and per play than the 2008 Steelers.
So if the job gets done on Sunday in Tampa, and the Steelers earn their 6th Super Bowl title – it bears talking about – this could be the best defense ever. If nothing else, it’ll make for great water cooler talk.