Do the Pittsburgh Steelers have another dynasty of defense?

Video Clip of the Immaculate Reception

Pittsburgh Steelers Logo
Pittsburgh Steelers Logo

Watching the Pittsburgh Steelers defeat the Dallas Cowboys, 20-13, yesterday prompted me to research about the team. It's more nostalgia really. But face it, not many NFL teams can boast a consistent defense over the years.

In a game where we celebrate The Drive (Denver vs Cleveland, 87 AFC Championship), The Catch (Montana to Clark, 82 NFC Championship), and The Hail Mary (Staubach to Pearson, 75 NFC Divisional Playoffs), there seem to be a lack of salute with equal status to the men who stop such plays from happening. Not so in Pittsburgh. Sure they have The Immaculate Reception (Steelers vs Raiders, 72 AFC Divisional Championship). But for the past 30-40 years, the vaunted Pittsburgh Steelers Defense are the stars in town.

It's always fun to compare the Pittsburgh Steelers defense of the pasts to the current, just to see which one is better. But first, let's recognized that today's Pittsburgh defense is top-notch, led by safety #43 Troy Polamalu and head coached by Mike Tomlin.

2008 Season's Best of the Steeler's Defense

As of Week 14 of the 2008 season, the Steelers lead the league in total defense. They are tops in most defensive categories including sacks and least points allowed. Some of their highlights so far in 2008:

  • Week 2. In beating the Cleveland Browns 10-6, the Steelers defense took down quarterback Derek Anderson on the final play of the game to stop Cleveland's comeback.
  • Week 7. While defeating the Cincinnati Bengals 38-10, the Steelers sacked quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick 7 times.
  • Week 9. In a 23-6 victory over the Washington Redskins (6-2), the Steelers linebackers had a combined 5 sacks. Also, the Steelers intercepted Jason Campbell 2 times. Campbell had not been picked-off in the prior eight games. The Redskins were held to 221 total yards and only 60 yards rushing. As of week 14, the Redskins are 6th in league rushing.
  • Week 13. A 33-10 victory over the 7-5 Patriots. The Pittsburgh Steelers defense had 4 sacks and caused 5 turnovers.
  • Week 14. The Steelers beat the Cowboys, 20-13. Cowboys had a 3-game winning streak with the return of Tony Romo from injury. Steelers defeated the Cowboys with a game winning touchdown interception late in the 4rth quarter. The Steelers recorded 3 interceptions, 5 turnovers, and 3 sacks.

Troy Polamalu Jersey
Troy Polamalu Jersey

Defense Roster of 2008 Steelers, 3-4 Defense

  • LDE #91 Aaron Smith
  • NT #98 Casey Hampton
  • RDE #99 Brett Keisel
  • LOLB #56 Lamar Woodley
  • LILB #51 James Farrior
  • RILB #50 Lawrence Foote
  • ROLB #92 James Harrison
  • LCB #24 Ike Taylor
  • RCB #26 Deshea Townsend
  • SS #43 Troy Polamalu
  • FS #25 Ryan Clark

Now, compare that to the Steelers of the past...

Classic Mean Joe Greene Coke Commercial

Short Documentary of the Steel Curtain 1976 Season

Chuck Noll and The Steel Curtain Dynasty

My memories of the 70's Steelers are limited to Mean Joe Greene's Coke commercial and Super Bowl XIV (which was actually held in 1980 from the 1979-1980 NFL season). The Steel Curtain, which was originally named after the dominant defensive front four of Joe Greene, L.C. Greenwood, Ernie Holmes, and Dwight White, evolved through the next few years to include the entire defensive unit. I'd say rightly so because the 70's Steelers also include the likes of Hall of Famers Jack Lambert (linebacker), Jack Ham (linebacker), and Mel Blount (cornerback).

The Steel Curtain showed their dominance in the 1975 season when 8 out of 11 defensive players were named to the Pro Bowl, namely Joe Greene, L.C. Greenwood, Jack Ham, Jack Lambert, Andy Russell, Mel Blount, Glen Edwards, and Mike Wagner. They also beat Roger Staubach's Dallas Cowboys 21-17 in Super Bowl X. This was their second Super Bowl in a row after winning the franchise's first from the prior season.

In 1976, the Steelers did not get to the Super Bowl. They lost to the Oakland Raiders in a divisional playoff. Nevertheless, the Steel Curtain had an excellent year. The Steelers began the season with a 1-4 record. An injury to quarterback Terry Bradshaw prompted the defense to step-up and takeover. In the next eight out of nine games, the defense, led by linebacker Jack Lambert, didn't allow a single touchdown, shutting out opponents five times including three consecutive. They finished 10-4 that season.

Pittsburgh Steelers Throwback Jersey

Jack Lambert Jersey
Jack Lambert Jersey

Defense Roster in Super Bowl IX, 4-3 Defense, Steel Curtain, 1974-75 Season

  • LDT #75 "Mean" Joe Greene
  • LDE #68 L.C. Greenwood
  • RDT #63 Ernie Holmes
  • RDE #78 Dwight White
  • LOLB #59 Jack Ham
  • MLB #58 Jack Lambert
  • ROLB #34 Andy Russell
  • LCB #48 J.T. Thomas
  • RCB #47 Mel Blount
  • SS #50 Mike Wagner
  • FS #19 Glen Edwards

After the Steel Curtain era ended the early 80's, Chuck Noll stayed on to coach a mediocre Pittsburgh Steeler team.  They made the playoffs in 1982, 83, 84, and 89, but they did not dominate the AFC as they once did.  Through most of these years, they were led by safety/cornerback #26 Rod Woodson who I thought was the best defensive player of his time, at least in Tecmo Bowl.

Chuck Noll retired at the end of the 1991 season.  And they continued with new blood...

Bill Cowher and the Blitzburgh

When Bill Cowher first joined the Pittsburgh Steelers, I thought he was a little young to be a head coach at only 35 years.  He looked tough as nails though being a former linebacker for the Eagles and the Browns.  I don't recall him having too many critics, but if they were there, he shut them up in the 1995-96 season when he took the Steelers to Super Bowl XXX.

Of course, they lost to Troy Aikman's Dallas Cowboys, 27-17.  Cowher would not take the Steelers to the Super Bowl again until 2006 in Super Bowl XL when they beat Matt Hasselbeck's Seattle Seahawks by a score of 21-10.  He retired from the Steelers in 2007.

To me, there were two distinct defensive dynasties under Bill Cowher, the dominant early- to mid-90's Blitzburgh defense led by Greg Lloyd and the 2006 team led by Troy Polamalu that continues today.

It's interesting to note that the Blitzburgh, which was the next well-formed squad after the Steel Curtain, was dominated by the linebacking corp.  In fact, they employed a 3-4 defensive set, meaning three down linemen and four linebackers.  The Blitzburgh was fun to watch.  Kevin Greene with stints in professional wrestling, proved to be much of a character in and out of the gridiron.  He's also a great linebacker.  Unfortunately, the Blitzburgh was not enough for a Super Bowl ring.  The closest they got was the lost to Dallas in Super Bowl XXX.

Personalized Pittsburgh Steelers Jersey

Custom Pittsburgh Steelers Jersey: Your name or any of your favorite player
Custom Pittsburgh Steelers Jersey: Your name or any of your favorite player

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Defense Roster in Super Bowl XXX, 3-4 Defense, Blitzburgh

  • LDE #96 Brentson Buckner
  • NT #93 Joel Steed
  • RDE #97 Ray Seals
  • LOLB #91 Kevin Greene
  • LILB #98 Chad Brown
  • RILB #99 Levon Kirkland
  • ROLB #95 Greg Lloyd
  • LCB #37 Carnell Lake
  • RCB #27 Willie Williams
  • SS #40 Myron Bell
  • FS #39 Darren Perry

Bill Cowher and the 2005-06 Steelers

After Super Bowl XXX, the Steelers continued to be a playoff team.  But the magic was clearly missing.  With Jerome Bettis in the backfield, they made several trips to the post season games, losing to New England Patriots (1996), Denver Broncos (1997), New England Patriots (2001), Cleveland Browns (2002), New England Patriots (2004).  They missed the playoffs in 1998, 1999, 2000, and 2003.

In 2004, the Steelers returned to form with a 15-1 regular season record behind rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.  "Big Ben" was the catalyst the Steelers needed to compete among the elite teams of the NFL.  And the defense was led by safety #43 Troy Polamalu. 

Building on the 2004 season, the Steelers made another run for a Super Bowl in 2005.  Though the road started out rocky, they ended the regular season with an 11-5 record and qualified for the playoff as a wild card.  They beat the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XL with a score of 21-10. 

Defensively, however, the Steelers did not dominate as in the past.  The Seahawks had 396 total yards with 137 coming from the ground.  Nevertheless, with the victory, the Steelers joined the Dallas Cowboys and the San Francisco 49ers as the only teams with 5 Super Bowl victories.

Defense Roster in Super Bowl XL, 3-4 Defense

  • LDE #91 Aaron Smith
  • NT #98 Casey Hampton
  • RDE #67 Kimo von Oelhoffen
  • LOLB #53 Clark Haggans
  • LILB #51 James Farrior
  • RILB #50 Larry Foote
  • ROLB #55 Joey Porter
  • LCB #24 Ike Taylor
  • RCB #26 Deshea Townsend
  • SS #43 Troy Polamalu
  • FS #28 Chris Hope

Maybe they are beginning with a bang, because the Steelers lead the league in defense two years after Super Bowl XL and the roster remain pretty much the same.  While they don't have a distinct nickname yet, such as the Steel Curtain or Blitzburgh, the current Steelers defense is dominant.  They are perhaps secondly only to the original Steel Curtain in the way they dispel opponents.

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Comments 2 comments

filthyscoundral profile image

filthyscoundral 7 years ago

Great hub!


HealthFreak31 profile image

HealthFreak31 6 years ago

They def. do. William Gay was the weakest think in the D by far. With mcfadden back we fixed that and got polamlu and smith healthy again

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