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Steelers defense leading the way — and leading the league in the postseason

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One team is leading every major, defensive category during these NFL playoffs. Guess who?

NFL: AFC Divisional-Pittsburgh Steelers at Kansas City Chiefs Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

There’s a new sheriff in town.

The Steelers’ defense, not the offense, is leading the way through the playoffs right now, and they’re doing it better than they did even at their highest point of the regular season.

In fact, it’s not even accurate to think of this defense as the new sheriff in town. We should be calling them the U.S. Marshals because they are, in fact, leading the league in the postseason in just about every statistical category.

Total yards? 266 per game—best in the league of 12 teams in the playoffs. Passing yards? 209.5 per game—good for sixth in the league. Rushing yards? 56.5 per game—best in the—well—you get the picture.

All of the offensive yards in the world won’t win you games, as the Steelers nearly found out against the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday night. Despite outgaining the Chiefs by 162, the Steelers were one holding penalty (on a two-point conversion attempt) away from allowing the Chiefs to tie the game with less than three minutes to go. It was defense to the rescue again, holding the Chiefs to only 16 points on a day when Pittsburgh’s high-output, high-potential offense managed six scoring drives but scored only 18 points.

That 16-point effort for the defense means they’ve allowed just 28 points in the postseason, or 14 per game. That’s good for—you guessed it—best in the league.

For some perspective, there have been eight playoff games so far. In those eight games, a team has scored at least 28 points six times. Five of the six one-and-done teams in the playoffs — the Lions, Raiders, Dolphins, Cowboys and Giants — gave up at least 26 points in their loss. The lone outlier is the Chiefs, who gave up just enough points to start their off-season after a single playoff game.

Of the teams remaining, only the Packers are averaging more than 20 points surrendered per game. Even that stat is misleading, though, as they held their first opponent, the New York Giants, to only 13 points.

It’s certainly true the Steelers haven’t exactly played a pair of offensive juggernauts. The Dolphins were down to their backup quarterback, and the Chiefs were only the 20th-best offense during the regular season. What is true, however, is that the Steelers’ defense is rising to the occasion regardless of their opponents, and they even excelled in a very hostile environment on Sunday night, shutting down the home team. That’s going to be critical in the upcoming AFC Championship Game, as the Steelers will take on the New England Patriots, the third-best scoring offense during the 2016 regular season. The offense will have to step up, too, because they haven’t exactly done that consistently on the road this season.

But, if they can muster about 24 points, and the defense plays the same lights-out style they have during the first two games of the playoffs, the Steelers might get back to the Super Bowl for the fourth time in quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s career. And they’d do it the same way that they reached the first two of those—riding on the sturdy backs of a smothering defense.