Pittsburgh Steelers Offense Surges, But Defense Wins Championships


Oct 26, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck (12) is sacked by Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward (97) and defensive end Brett Keisel (99) during the second half of their game at Heinz Field. The Steelers won the game, 51-34. Mandatory Credit: Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers have always been known for their defenses.  During the dynasty of the 70’s, the Bill Cowher years, and the early rise of Mike Tomlin and his two Super Bowl appearances – the Steelers and Pittsburgh love good hard hitting defense.

Defense wins championships.  It’s a phrase that’s been said ad nauseam over the years when describing what it takes for teams to not only make it to the Super Bowl, but win the whole thing.  There’s proof in the pudding, as they say.  The Steelers demonstrated fantastic defense for entire seasons when they found themselves heading straight for the Super Bowl.  Sportingcharts.com came up with a chart that illustrates that so well.

Below are some charts of the almost hundreds of statistical charts this site has come up with that cover the Steelers defense since the early 90’s.

The higher the peak in these charts the better the defensive stat – that’s pretty much the gist without having to get too deep into the numbers.  What’s the trend here?  2001, 2005, 2008, 2010.  Four years, the four highest peaks in most of the categories (except for most yards allowed, then it’s the opposite).  Not coincidentally (which is the whole point here), those are the four years where the Steelers went to the Super Bowl… except for in 2001 when the Steelers lost to a young Tom Brady and the Patriots in the AFC Championship game.  They did go 13-3 that regular season.

When the Steelers dominate on defense, they win games, they win playoff games, they win championships.  The NFL has been “refining” the rules for the last decade in Rodger Goodell’s quest to make football scores look like college basketball games.  The changes almost always favor the offense in some way, and they have put strain on defenses around the league.  These changes appear to have effected the Steelers the most – their intimidating physical and tight play that allowed them to dominate in years past is now a major liability.

The Steelers offense showcased last Sunday against the Colts how awesome they can be.  But, we all know even if the Steelers can keep their collective offensive crap together, they can’t put up 50+ every week.  They need defense.  They must find a way to improve.  They will never return to the dominating force they were back in the first decade of 2000 or the 90’s or the 70’s.  The game has changed too much.  What the Steelers need instead is a way to control the big plays and get off the field on crucial third downs.  That Toxic Differential chart shows exactly what I mean.  Since 2011, when the Steelers lost to Tim Tebow in the Wild Card, the Steelers have been declining in being able to prevent big plays.  Big plays collect big yards, set up opposing teams for a score, are huge momentum changers, and have moved the Steelers from being 12-4 to 8-8 for two consecutive seasons.

The charts don’t lie.  And, the trend is clear.  As long as the Steelers struggle on defense the way they have lately, they will not find themselves as playoff contenders very often.  They won’t ever find themselves in the Super Bowl.