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!
#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.
#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