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Comparing the Defenses of the 2010, 2008, and 1976 Pittsburgh Steelers: Week 4

Another week, another solid defensive performance by the Pittsburgh Steelers. This week, however, the Steelers' defense was unable to make the same volume of big plays and important stops as they had the first three weeks of the season. The end result was a game-winning touchdown by the Balimore Ravens.

Even thoguh it was disheartening to see the Steelers' pass defense look vulnerable (and perhaps ominous of things to come), Dick LeBeau's unit actually deserves quite a bit of credit for how tough they played the Ravens, particularly in the second half prior to the Ravens' final two drives late in the fourth quarter. I have a separate post devoted to their performance in the works, but basically, the Steelers did what they do - bend, but don't break. Unfortunately, they bent a bit more than normal, and they broke at the absolute worst time. That was partly the product of being put in a compromising situation though.

Anyway, 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 the original post, here was the explanation of the comparison:

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 *

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
1976 (1-3) 92
336.75 198 138.75 16 N / A *

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

Interestingly enough, the Steelers' fourth game of the season was against the Ravens in both 2008 and 2010. In 2008, the Steelers sacked Joe Flacco five times en route to a much-needed, clutch win. Much like on Sunday, Flacco had some success throwing the ball (16-of-31, 192 yards, 1 TD, 0 INTs). Considering that it was just his fourth NFL start, that's not too shabby. He was even better in the first of the teams' two meetings in 2010 (24-of-37, 256 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT), despite making one awful throw that could have really crippled his team's chances at winning.

Now we must wait two weeks to see what unfolds next. Will the Steelers' defense rout the run-reliant Cleveland Browns offense? Who am I kidding. Of course they'll look solid against the Browns. The real tests come not long after when the team faces a three-game road stretch at Miami, New Orleans and Cincinnati before returning home to take on New England. We'll really know what kind of unit we're cheering for by the first week or so of November.