Comparing the Defenses of the 2010, 2008, and 1976 Pittsburgh Steelers

TAMPA FL - SEPTEMBER 26: Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau of the Pittsburgh Steelers watches his team against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the game at Raymond James Stadium on September 26 2010 in Tampa Florida. (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)

Another week, another solid defensive performance by the Pittsburgh Steelers. So, let's continue to track and compare this year's defense to two hallowed units: the 2008 Steelers defense, and the 1976 group that almost carried the team to the Super Bowl against all odds. If you missed last week's post, here was the explanation of the comparison:

Through two [three] games at least, the defense of the Pittsburgh Steelers is looking championship caliber. I've read several people mention the hallowed 1976 defense and how this year's unit has the potential to be that dominant. It's doubtful that a defense will ever match the statistical greatness of that year's defense, if only because offenses are so much more competent today than they were back then. It's just not likely that Dick LeBeau's group will be able to do things like pitch shutouts in three straight games and five of their final eight.

Can this year's D be as stingy as they were in 2008 when they led the league in points allowed, passing yards allowed, and finished second in rushing yards and sacks? It's quite possible if the first two weeks of action are any indication. So, new weekly story idea is born: let's compare the '76, the '08 and the '10 defensive performances by week, at least until it no longer makes sense to do so. Hopefully though the Steelers' defense continues their outstanding play into the fall and winter months.

 

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 12.67 234 169.67 64.33 8 10
1976 (1-2) 75 25 389.66 255.33 134.33 12 N / A *

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

It's incredible how poorly the Steelers started the 1976 season. Despite forcing 12 turnovers, the Steelers' defense still gave up way too many big plays. It didn't help that the offense was turning the ball over almost as frequently as the defense was taking it away from the opposition. That year's team would need several more weeks before really getting on a roll, but they definitely hit rock bottom defensively against the Patriots in Week 3 before providing a glimpse of their greatness the following week.

As for the '08 defense: they were arguably a bit better than the '10 unit through three games. 2 of the 15 points they allowed against the Eagles were on a safety, and I'm sure I don't need to remind you of how well the Steelers played defensively just to keep the score as close as it was on a day when the offense was atrocious.  I wrote in my game recap yesterday that I was greedily upset by the garbage time points and yards accumulated the last two weeks. As is, the defensive numbers through three weeks certainly suggest that this year'd defense is very good, but really they've been outstanding when it's counted most...i.e. with the game still in the balance.

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