What the Steelers Can Learn from the 2009 Saints


It’s no secret. The Steelers defense has seen better days. The defense is young. It does not generate a lot of turnovers or sacks. It lacks depth at every position besides inside linebacker. It has several unproven starters. And, perhaps worst of all, is the that the defense gives up a lot of passing yards. But there’s hope. You can win a Super Bowl with a bad defense. Just ask the 2009 New Orleans Saints.

In Super Bowl XLIV, the Saints beat Manning helmed Indianapolis Colts. The Saints that year had an experienced quarterback at the top of his game. The running back position could run and catch. The wide receivers were deep and talented. The tight ends and offensive line were solid contributors. Overall, the offense was the best in the league and could dominate teams on the ground or through the air.

Their defense however was pretty poor. Overall it was 25th overall in the league. Their passing defense was 26th overall in the league. Their rush defense was only slightly better at 21st overall. No defensive player made the Pro Bowl.

Is all this starting to sound familiar?

The Steelers of 2014, and probably 2015 closely resembles the Super Bowl winning Saints of the 2009 season. The Steelers defense was actually, despite its reputation, notably better than the Saints defense in 2009. Last year it was ranked defensively at 18th overall. They too were ranked 26th in passing defense but the Steelers were much better at rushing defense at 6th overall.

So what’s the difference between the 2014 Steelers and the 2009 Saints? Two similar teams but one won a Super Bowl, the other did not. The Steelers defense was even better, though certainly not good.

How do you win a Super Bowl with a bad defense? Well first, have a great offense. Check.

The other thing is the defense. It doesn’t have to limit yards. What it does need is a subject coach Tomlin is well familiar with, splash plays. Take fumble recoveries, interceptions, sacks, and touchdowns.

  • Fumble recoveries

2009 Saints: 5th

2014 Steelers: 15th

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  • Interceptions

2009 Saints: 3rd

2014 Steelers: 25th

  • Sacks

2009 Saints: 13th

2014 Steelers: 26th

  • Scoring Defense

2009 Saints: 1st

2014 Steelers: 1st

So there you have it. What are the Steelers missing? We don’t have to have a defense like the 2000s Super Bowl teams, not the Steelers ones anyway. You can’t expect the Steelers defense to be the best in the league next year. But you can expect them to improve in a few key stats, namely sacks, interceptions, and fumble recoveries.

Tomlin recently said in an interview with WAVY.com at his hometown of Hampton, Virginia that, “Young and defense are two things that I like. That’s not a change that you fear. We’ve got some guys that are working really hard and are really talented. Unproven, yes, but that’s why we play the game. I’ve been excited about watching them work and I look forward to watching them grow and grow together.”

The defense is young. They aren’t necessarily running the schemes perfectly like the Steelers defenses of a few years ago. They aren’t crafty vets who never let their man behind them and meet the back at the line of scrimmage every time. What they are is fast and athletic. They’re young and fresh. Take advantage of it.

Butler could introduce elements to the tried and true Steelers defense that involve more risk taking. The idea is, if a corner goes for an interception it could go one of two ways. Either they make a play, whether batting down the ball or intercepting it, or they whiff and the receiver catches the ball.

But, if your pass defense is so bad that even if you try to play conservative you still give up big yards, then you might as well take the risk. If playing conservative is not getting you anywhere, then taking a risk is no risk at all. At least then you give them a chance that something good will happen.

More swatting at balls, more blitzing, more stunts, more ball hawking.

So that’s the lesson from the 09 Saints and a number of other winning bad defenses. Go big, be aggressive, take risks.

At this point what separates the Steelers from a Super Bowl is not a great defense, or even a mediocre defense, but just a few more sacks, a few more interceptions, and few more fumble recoveries.

Next: Steelers Cam Heyward Signed to a Six Year Contract

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