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Ranking the Top 3 Pittsburgh Defenses of this Millennium… So Far

Steeler Nation

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The 2000’s millennium has had an abundance of excitement for the Pittsburgh Steelers and Steeler Nation. From Super Bowls to legendary Hall of Famers, the Steelers have enjoyed some high points of this millennium. Not only have we seen the rise of stars such as Hines Ward and Plaxico Burress, but we have also seen the prolific era of the “Killer B’s”. However, when it comes to Steelers football, one dimension is a staple of Steelers football: defense.

Since the inception of the Steel Curtain defense, the standard was born for Pittsburgh Steelers defenses—and as the ole Tomlinism states: The Standard is the Standard. The Steelers turn of the century has not only had the dynamic offenses as mentioned earlier, but it has also had some of the best modern defenses. Today, I want to highlight the top 3 defenses that have been placed on the field since January 1st, 2000. There are some obvious choices and also some relative surprises!



Credit: Steelers.com

Credit: Steelers.com

#3 – 2019 Steelers Defense​


This might surprise some and maybe screams of recency bias—but there’s no denying this defense was the best the Steelers had produced since 2010. It was a defense that not only saw the addition and flourishment of Minkah Fitzpatrick, it saw the rise of key players. Let’s break down the rankings:

Total Defense – 304.1 YPG (5th)
Pass Defense – 194.6 YPG (3rd)
Rush Defense – 109.6 YPG (14th)
Points Allowed – 18.9 PPG (6th)
Sacks – 54 (1st)
Turnovers Forced – 38 (1st)


There is no mystery what stood out about this defense: turnovers. In 2018, they forced a total of 15. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see the improvement. The addition of Minkah Fitzpatrick, Devin Bush, and Steve Nelson bolstered the linebacker and secondary crops—and the long-awaited emergence of Bud Dupree elevated the pass rush. This defense single-handedly won the Steelers games—adding scores of their own to the scoreboard. With an offensive coordinator who couldn’t bring innovation beyond the wildcat, two young QBs, and a constant injury cycle to their skill positions, the defense was the star of 2019. Thus, they are the #3 defense of the millennium.






#2 – 2005 Steelers Defense​


Some will argue the previous year’s defense was better, but I have to disagree. This defense not only was stellar in the regular season, but it was also dominant in the postseason—allowing 15.5 points a game and holding the NFL’s best offense to a season-low 10 points in Super Bowl XL. Yes, you may also say that this is incredibly biased—just because they won a Super Bowl! Well… yes. Let’s take a look at the rankings:

Total Defense – 284 YPG (4th)
Pass Defense – 198 YPG (16th)
Rush Defense – 86 YPG (3rd)
Points Allowed – 16.1 PPG (4th)
Sacks – 47 (T-3rd)
Turnovers Forced – 30 (T-11th)


This defense had similar trends to the 2019 defense: winning games at their own will. With Ben Roethlisberger out 4 games during the season due to knee injuries, the defense terrorized offenses, shut down stellar offenses, and scored touchdowns of their own en route to a 2-2 record without him. When the season was on the line, the Steelers finished with 4 straight regular-season wins—with the defense averaging an outstanding 8.25 points per game. They land as the #2 defense of the millennium.



Credit: Getty Images

Credit: Getty Images

#1 – 2008 Steelers Defense​


Did you expect any other defense? If you were, you might be waking up from a coma. Welcome! In all seriousness, this is a historical defense. The 2008 defense was so dominant, it felt like the Steelers could score just 13 points and it would have a chance (it happened, too)! If you’re not convinced by watching them play, look at the outstanding rankings:

Total Defense – 237.2 YPG (1st)
Pass Defense – 156.9 YPG (1st)
Rush Defense – 80.3 YPG (1st)
Points Allowed – 13.9 PPG (1st)
Sacks – 51 (1st)
Turnovers Forced – 29 (T-9th)


This was a defense that saw every single player play the best seasons of their careers. Whether it was Ryan Clark laying the wood, Troy Polamalu with diving picks, or James Harrison sandwiching the QB with Lamar Woodley… it was such a fun defense to watch. They only allowed 30 or more points and 300 yards of offense in the regular season just *once*. What holds the unit back from really being considered among NFL lore was Super XLIII’s final moments—which is ridiculous. There have been a lot of good NFL defenses since then… but not nearly at the level as this unit. I would go as far as to say it is right behind the Steel Curtains defenses of the ’70s… but that’s for another day.



Honorable Mention – 2004 Steelers Defense

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FSF

The Agile Financial
2005 was not among the top 3.
From 2000-2012, Steelers had the #1 defense in NFL in 2001, 2004, 2007, 2008, 2011, 2012.

Until Polamalu hurt his Achilles in 2010, they were dominating (and than was without Aaron Smith). His DPOY level alone puts that regular season effort as one of the greatest ever. Harrison and Woodley bringing the rush and Farrior with Timmons on inside was ferocious.

2001 with Bell, Hampton, Porter, Smith, Gildon — only reason they didn’t advance to Super Bowl was special teams.

They led league or had more than 50 sacks 6 times as well. The 05 unit did not dominate like other units did, but they had the offensive side come together better than any great D of the milinium more than any other Steelers D
 

Drink IRON City

Contributor whining about a tag
I haven't done the research (probably won't) but that 08' team has to be one of the absolute best to ever play the game. I'd venture a top 5 at worst.



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Steelr4evr

Well-known member
2005&2008 are definitely the best teams. The defense helped seal the championship deal in both years. So for that they're number 1 for me.

2008 to me was the best they've had to offer since the 1970's.

2005 Fought through the most adversity and did the most improbable championship run completely on the road as a 6th seed.
 

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Turd Ferguson

Well-known member
Aaron Smith and Casey Hampton are two major pieces of those defenses who never get their due. Even this write-up glosses over their contributions. Woodley mentioned but not Big Snack....seriously?
 

madinsomniac

Well-known member
I prefer to think of team defense and offense in mini eras of 3 to 7 years...though some are extended longer... the steel curtain for instance....

The blitzburgh defense of 92-97 was great... it literally changed the game

the renegade defense of the 00’s was better but for some inexplicable reason was overshadowed by RayRays cheap knockoff

this latest group is basically blitzburgh part 2.... it needs a better name
 

madinsomniac

Well-known member
Also 2001-2005 really ought to be separate from 2007-2012... yeah tgere was player overlap as well as DLB carryover, but the earlier set was more cowheresque zone coverages in the secondary while tomlin installed more cover 2 behind the zone blitz scheme up front

this current defense is more man and the dline rushes more than just eats space
 

Steelworth

Absolutely Worthless
I know this is OT but speaking of defense, dang:



Figured this could be enjoyable enough to post. And Glen Edwards was a vicious dude. They all were. Before my time so thankful for the motion picture camera.
 

Coryea

Nothing left to do but win the whole fucking thing
2005&2008 are definitely the best teams. The defense helped seal the championship deal in both years. So for that they're number 1 for me.

2008 to me was the best they've had to offer since the 1970's.

2005 Fought through the most adversity and did the most improbable championship run completely on the road as a 6th seed.
Than 2008 defense is one of the best single season defenses of all time. Gave up less yards per play than both the 2000 Ravens and 1985 Bears.
 

Steelr4evr

Well-known member
I know this is OT but speaking of defense, dang:



Figured this could be enjoyable enough to post. And Glen Edwards was a vicious dude. They all were. Before my time so thankful for the motion picture camera.

If you want to look at a Steeler defense /team outside of the 2000,s ?

1976. That what sticks out the most to me. They started the season 1-4 ,got really pissed off and didn't lose a game again until the afc championship game vs the raiders. Too many injuries derailed them from getting to that 3rd superbowl in a row.

The last 8 games the points allowed each game 0,0,0,3,16,3,0,0.

I was just 5 at the time,but having a diehard Steeler fan father watched all of the games with him.

What I remember most was swarming violent relentlessness ,Jack Lamberts pumping legs in the middle and how futile it was for other teams to do much of anything against them.
 

Coach

Well-known member
Than 2008 defense is one of the best single season defenses of all time. Gave up less yards per play than both the 2000 Ravens and 1985 Bears.

Very good info. A great D needs a great coach. Lebeau was one of them. Butler who tis solid can't carry his jock strap.
 

FSF

The Agile Financial
I haven't done the research (probably won't) but that 08' team has to be one of the absolute best to ever play the game. I'd venture a top 5 at worst.



Salute the nation
They were #1 vs pass, yards, points & sacks vs. the toughest schedule that a Super Bowl team faced based on previous season and 2nd only to 79 Steelers based on that season results (mainly due to a tie game). Only reason they weren’t #1 vs. rush was Vikings horrible pass D that team’s didn’t bother even trying to run on them.

they don’t get credit deserved All-Time because of the Cardinals 2 TDs in 4th qtr.

But facing Kurt Warner was quite different than a Kerry Collins or Tony Eason. Still say 85 Bears are most overrated team ever
 

FSF

The Agile Financial
If you want to look at a Steeler defense /team outside of the 2000,s ?

1976. That what sticks out the most to me. They started the season 1-4 ,got really pissed off and didn't lose a game again until the afc championship game vs the raiders. Too many injuries derailed them from getting to that 3rd superbowl in a row.

The last 8 games the points allowed each game 0,0,0,3,16,3,0,0.

I was just 5 at the time,but having a diehard Steeler fan father watched all of the games with him.

What I remember most was swarming violent relentlessness ,Jack Lamberts pumping legs in the middle and how futile it was for other teams to do much of anything against them.
Rules of that era - you won’t see it again. Mel Blount would literally maul WRs and toss them to the ground and no penalty.

If not for injury they would have easily 3-peated. Raider fans love to bring up Tuck Rule vs. Patriots but ignore the gift roughing the passer that bailed them out of being 1 and done in 76 vs. the Patriots
 

FSF

The Agile Financial
Than 2008 defense is one of the best single season defenses of all time. Gave up less yards per play than both the 2000 Ravens and 1985 Bears.
And played against quality QBs, not journeymen.

85 Bears and 2000 Ravens won 1 playoff game each over a 4 year before and after stretch of their great year. Steelers played in 3 over 6 years. Which team was not a one year wonder?
 

Drink IRON City

Contributor whining about a tag
They were #1 vs pass, yards, points & sacks vs. the toughest schedule that a Super Bowl team faced based on previous season and 2nd only to 79 Steelers based on that season results (mainly due to a tie game). Only reason they weren’t #1 vs. rush was Vikings horrible pass D that team’s didn’t bother even trying to run on them.

they don’t get credit deserved All-Time because of the Cardinals 2 TDs in 4th qtr.

But facing Kurt Warner was quite different than a Kerry Collins or Tony Eason. Still say 85 Bears are most overrated team ever


ABSOLUTELY AGREE. Now they weren't no slouch but all time greats, NotA





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