Comparing the Defenses of the 2010, 2008, and 1976 Pittsburgh Steelers: Game No. 13 Edition

After a not-too-alarming midseason slump, the defense of the Pittsburgh Steelers has rounded back into form at just the right time. The Steelers defense now ranks second in points allowed, third in yards, and tied for second in yards per play. The pass defense has certainly looked better since the New England debacle. And what do you know, it's still next to impossible to run against Dick LeBeau's unit.

In Week 14, the Steelers defense did something that the '08 and '76 defenses did with regularity - carry the team to victory on its back. On a day when the offense didn't find the endzone, the defense picked up the slack, scoring two defensive scores on two of their three picks of Carson Palmer.

More thoughts after we update our weekly comparison of the three units...

Comparison Through 2 Games

Year Points Pts/Game Yards/Game Pass Y/G Rush Y/G Turnovers Sacks
2010 (3-0) 20 10 266.5 214.5 52 8 6
2008 (2-1) 23 11.5 221 157 64 5 7
1976 (1-1) 45 22.5 385 254.5 130.5 8 N / A *

 

 

Comparison Through 3 Games

Year Points Pts/Game Yards/Game Pass Y/G Rush Y/G Turnovers Sacks
2010 (3-0) 33 11 278.66 219 59.66 10 10
2008 (2-1) 38 12.67 234 69.67 64.33 8 10
1976 (1-2) 75 25 389.66 255.33 134.33 12 N / A *

 

Comparison Through 4 Games

Year Points Pts/Game Yards/Game Pass Y/G Rush Y/G Turnovers Sacks
2010 (3-1) 50 12.5 289 226.75 62.25 12 11
2008 (3-1) 58 14.5 236.25 162.25 74
11
15
1976 (1-3) 92
23
336.75 198 138.75 16 N / A *

 

Comparison Through 5 Games

Year Points Pts/Game Yards/Game Pass Y/G Rush Y/G Turnovers Sacks
2010 (4-1) 60 12 296.8 233 63.8 15 16
2008 (4-1) 79 15.8 231.6 164.8 66.8
11
18
1976 (1-4) 110
22
334.6 194.2 140.4 18 N / A *

 

Comparison Through 6 Games

Year Points Pts/Game Yards/Game Pass Y/G Rush Y/G Turnovers Sacks
2010 (5-1) 82 13.66 299.5 235.66 63.9 17 17
2008 (5-1) 89 14.83 228.33 158.66 69.66
12
25
1976 (2-4) 116
19.33
307.33 177.83 129.33 21 N / A *

 

Comparison Through 7 Games

Year Points Pts/Game Yards/Game Pass Y/G Rush Y/G Turnovers Sacks
2010 (5-2) 102 14.57 302.1 243.1 58.85 19 19
2008 (5-2) 110 15.7 236.4 164.4 71.56
12
25
1976 (3-4) 116
16.57
285 161.4 123.4 22 N / A *

 

 

Comparison Through 8 Games

Year Points Pts/Game Yards/Game Pass Y/G Rush Y/G Turnovers Sacks
2010 (6-2) 123 15.37 298.33 239.9 58.24 21 23
2008 (6-2) 116 14.5 235.7 163.97 70.1
14
32
1976 (4-4) 116
14.5 266.12 152.47 113.47 27 N / A *

 

Comparison Through 9 Games

Year Points Pts/Game Yards/Game Pass Y/G Rush Y/G Turnovers Sacks
2010 (6-3) 162 18 315.5 252.1 63.1 21 23
2008 (6-3) 140 15.5 241.7 171.1 69.2 14 34
1976 (5-4) 116 12.88 265.1 160.3 104.6 33 N / A *

 

Comparison Through 10 Games

Year Points Pts/Game Yards/Game Pass Y/G Rush Y/G Turnovers Sacks
2010 (7-3) 165 16.5 302.15 239.1 62.9 24 29
2008 (7-3) 150 15.0 239.33 169.2 68.9 16 36
1976 (6-4) 119 11.9 261 155.07 105.77 33 N / A *

 

Comparison Through 11 Games

Year Points Pts/Game Yards/Game Pass Y/G Rush Y/G Turnovers Sacks
2010 (8-3) 181 16.45 304.6 240.5 63.9 25 31
2008 (8-3) 160 14.5 236.48 168.8 66.52 17 37
1976 (7-4) 135 12.27 257.72 152.25 105.34 37 N / A *

 

Comparison Through 12 Games

Year Points Pts/Game Yards/Game Pass Y/G Rush Y/G Turnovers Sacks
2010 (9-3) 191 15.9 301.62 239.33 62.2 27 36
2008 (9-3) 170 14.1 239.02 166.8 71.15 22 42
1976 (8-4) 138 11.5 245 149.15 105.73 39 N / A *

 

Comparison Through 13 Games

Year Points Pts/Game Yards/Game Pass Y/G Rush Y/G Turnovers Sacks
2010 (10-3) 198 15.23 293.03 232.92 60.03 30 39
2008 (10-3) 183 14.07 242.86 168.89 72.98 27 45
1976 (9-4) 138 10.6 234.2 138.52 104.8 43 N / A *

*Sacks, of course, had not yet become an official stat in 1976, so  we unfortunately can't track and compare that  category.

  • In the second to last game of the '76 season, the Steelers D pitched their fourth shutout of the season. Heading into the final game of the regular season, the defense was on a truly epic stretch of dominance. Since Week 5, the Steelers had allowed just 28 points over the span of eight games and shut out opponents on four separate occasions. Twice they allowed a mere field goal. That my friends is why no defense will ever replicate the greatness of the '76 team. Different era though, so it's not quite an apples-to-apples comparison. 
  • In Week 14 of the '08 season, the Steelers defense actually played only so-so, at least by their standards that year. The setting was Heinz Field, the opponent the Dallas Cowboys. For three plus quarters, the Cowboys were in control. Tony Romo and the 'Boys were hardly marching all over the Steelers, but they had some success moving the football, only to shoot themselves in the foot with turnovers, the most notable one being DeShea Townsend's pick-six late in the fourth quarter. It was at this moment of that season that I felt comfortable writing on the site that I believed the Steelers were heading to the Super Bowl. I'm not sure I'll feel comfortable doing the same this year, even with a resounding win over the Jets next week. But that has more to do with how well New England's playing than anything else. I do think though we have a great shot of making it to Dallas to play on Super Bowl Sunday.
  • And finally, a note on this year's defense and their performance in Game No. 13. They didn't start well, allowing the Bengals to march nearly 70 yards on their opening possession for a touchdown. But they were lights out in the middle stages of the game. More on this later perhaps, but it seems as if teams are giving up on the run a bit too early against the Steelers. No, I don't think there's too much success to be had running the ball, but teams are getting a bit overly one-dimensional with how they're attacking the Steelers. You just can't do that against a Dick LeBeau coached defense. Look for the Jets, Panthers, and Browns to all sprinkle in more rushing attempts than have the Steelers' recent opponents.
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