It's one of the most cliched phrases in sports; "Defense wins championships." Especially in professional football, when a tough defense is considered one of the major factors of a successful team.
The Pittsburgh Steelers, perhaps more than any other franchise in the NFL, know how important a top-ranked defense can be. The Steelers have been to eight Super Bowls, six of which they won. For every appearance in February, the Steelers possessed a defense ranked no lower than fourth in the league, in terms of yards allowed per game. On the other hand, the Pittsburgh offense hasn't been as important, with the team ranking No. 15, No. 22 and No. 14 in terms of total offense in their last three Super Bowl appearances, according to Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
This season, Pittsburgh is the No. 2 offense in the league, with a realistic possibility of finishing the season as the league's top unit. Their defense, however, has failed to garner much success, ranking 20th in the NFL in yards allowed per game.
The differences between the 2014 Steelers and the teams from 1979 or 2008, for example, is the level of play on the defensive side of the ball. But according to recent events, having a "great" defense doesn't necessarily translate to Super Bowl success. The 2006 Colts and 2009 Saints both possessed top offensive units which clashed with their bottom-10 defenses. The Colts and Saints both won their divisions, won 13 games and were considered early Super Bowl favorites, despite poor defenses. The Steelers, notwithstanding their offensive success, don't quite boast the early accolades afforded to those Indianapolis and New Orleans squads.
Steelers linebacker Lawrence Timmons having excellent season.
The Pittsburgh offense undoubtedly is the type of unit that can carry a team to post-season success. Ben Roethlisberger isn't quite Drew Brees or Peyton Manning (not yet), but he's a winner and a proven one at that. Roethlisberger and Co. also have another important attribute on their side; they're heating up at the right time.
Should the Steelers defeat the Bengals and win the AFC North, they will have carried a four-game winning streak into the playoffs. Getting hot at the right time has proven to be one of the most overlooked, but vastly important aspects of winning Super Bowls. The most obvious and recent examples include the 2011 Giants and 2012 Ravens. The Giants won three of their last four games before getting hot in the playoffs and ultimately beating the Patriots in the Super Bowl, while the Ravens sputtered to the finish, but then crushed Andrew Luck and the Colts in the Wildcard round of the playoffs, getting hot just in time to go on a playoff run. Roethlisberger might not quite be on a Brees or Manning level, but he's certainly miles ahead of Eli Manning and Joe Flacco. Worth noting also is the fact that both the Giants and Ravens possessed less-than-stellar defenses, with the Ravens ranking No. 17 in total defense and the Giants a paltry No. 27.
All season, experts and regular observers of this Pittsburgh team have predicted the poor defense would ultimately be the downfall of the Steelers. While Steelers fans are keenly aware of the importance of a top defense, the harsh truth is that Pittsburgh doesn't currently have a great defense. In fact, it's yet to be seen whether this defensive unit as a whole is even very good. They've played well at times, adequately at other times and downright awful in certain weeks.
Despite this, Steelers fans can take comfort in knowing that a great Pittsburgh defense might not be necessary for this team to be successful in its quest for a record seventh Super Bowl.