In a reflective offseason exercise, ESPN's Aaron Schatz has gone and ranked the best defenses that the NFL has seen over the last three decades.
Any Pittsburgh faithful would expect the Steelers to be well represented on that list, and they would be correct.
Coming in as the 30th pick are the 2004 Steelers who managed a 15-1 record. That may be the year most remember as the rise of Big Ben, but it was also a monstrous year for the Steelers defensive corps. The team combined for 39 sacks, 677 tackles, forced 20 fumbles, made 21 fumble recoveries, along with 19 interceptions and ruining 80 pass attempts.
Not bad, but not the best by a long shot.
Next up was the 2010 defense, ranking at the 27th spot. Citing an incredible run defense that kept the opposing ground game down to an average of just 3 yards per carry, on top of an excellent anti-air game built on the backs of that year's All Pro linebackerand safety Troy Polamalu.
In 19th place, the 1990 Steelers defense. Across the NFL no team shut down the passing game better that season. With 24 interceptions and only 9 passing touchdowns scored, the passing game against Pittsburgh only netted opponents an average of 5.1 yards per attempt.
And finally, the 2008 defensive roster was ranked at the 7th best of the last 30 years. They were the best pass defense in the league, and trailed only their rival Baltimore Ravens for run defense numbers. Schatz himself described that squad as: "the pinnacle of the defensive rivalry that has defined the AFC North in the 21st century.
"The Steelers were the better defense during the regular season, and their average of 4.3 net yards allowed per pass is the best figure of any defense in the past 20 years. But the Ravens move slightly ahead once we consider the postseason because they shut down the Miami and Tennessee offenses in their first two playoff games.
"The Steelers had the last laugh, however, beating Baltimore 23-14 in the AFC Championship Game and then going on to win the Super Bowl."
Seems like a fitting summary, but who could have scored higher on this list than the 2008 Steelers? The 2015 Broncos, 2004 Bills, 2000 Ravens, 2002 Buccaneers, and the 1991 Eagles.
Oh, and the, the 2008 Ravens. Wait, WHAT!?
The ESPN analysis is good, even if you don't agree with where the team falls on the list. It was a bit of a surprise not to see the Pittsburgh's 2005 squad represented, but apparently winning Super Bowls isn't the most important qualifying factor.
Also keep in mind that the legendary 1976 Steelers can't be included unless the list was the best 31 teams over the last 31 years. They should have included them anyways.
Source: Aaron Schatz - ESPN · Photo Credit: KEYSTONE PRESS