The recipe to winning a Super Bowl has changed with the times, and coincidentally with the rule book, as offensive players are favored, leading to higher scoring games and thus, more ratings. Nowadays, a team can advance to the biggest spectacle in sports with a standout offense and a shoddy defense. Glancing back through time, the Steelers’ calling card has been defense, whether it be the Steel Curtain units of the 70s or the more modern day versions. However, due to Father Time, their current defense is a shell of it’s former championship-caliber self.
The downward slide seemed to occur during the 2011 season, fresh off their Super Bowl loss to the Packers, and has been ongoing since. The losses of veteran stalwarts such as James Farrior, Aaron Smith or Casey Hampton, coupled with a few lackluster draft picks have been a major contributing factor. In fact, according to Football Outsiders, the defense went from the top-ranked unit that took the field in their Super Bowl loss, all the way to 30th last season. And although the team returned to the playoffs last season after a two-year hiatus, it was due in part to one of, if not, the league’s most potent offense.
Basically, what this means is that the team falls into the same category of some of the recent Super Bowl winners and elite teams in the league who feature potent offenses and sieve-like defensive units. However, the offense sputtered in the playoff loss to Baltimore, in massive part to the injury to superstar running back, Le’Veon Bell, whose absence crippled the team. Having not had any playoff success since 2010, the unit will likely have to be even better this coming season, or the expectations need to be higher for the defense.
However, even if the defense is average, the offense is far beyond it, which could set up a familiar scenario in that a great offense puts a bad defense on it’s back and carries it deep into the playoffs or Super Bowl. The Packers of the past few seasons are a reasonable comparison, as year in and year out, they’re a SB favorite, in large part because of their offense and not their maligned defense. Last season, the Packers were arguably a few blown calls away from the Super Bowl, where they would’ve likely been the favorites.
Pittsburgh’s offense will need to be as effective as it was last year, if not better, while the defense continues to grow into the large shoes left by it’s predecessors. With breakout stars across from Antonio Brown in the form of Martavis Bryant and Markus Wheaton, there is no reason to think that the unit won’t be better in 2015.
On the defensive side of the ball, the past few drafts have been dedicated clearly to that side of the ball, with three of the first four picks this year spent on a defender. With that youth comes speed and athleticism but it also brings with it inexperience and mistakes.
“I tell the Steelers’ young linebackers, ‘You could put all your sacks together and you won’t have as many as me so you’re going to listen to me,” outside linebackers coach Joey Porter told them regarding his 98 career sacks.
The bottom line is, with as great as the offense is expected to be, the defense can be middle-of-the-pack and the team could still make a potential Super Bowl run, barring injuries of course. It doesn’t have to be the Steel Curtain because we all know that type of defense may never be seen again. As long as it’s average, this is a team the analysts could still be talking about come January and potentially February.