Cold, Hard Football Facts for Jan 19, 2009
The Steelers rattled so many skulls in their 23-14 win over the Ravens in the AFC title game that half of Baltimore still hears a ringing in its ears today.
It was a classic defensive performance by Pittsburgh in every imaginable way, from the Baltimore star carted off the field to the disgraced wide receiver on offense pancaking a Ravens defender with bone-shivering fury. Hell, it certainly belongs on any Top 40 of Pittsburgh classic rocked.
The performance, of course, manifested itself in the Cold, Hard Football Facts. The Steelers:
- Held Baltimore to just 198 yards of offense and 3.4 yards per play
- Turned Joe Cool Flacco into Joe Critical Pick (as we said they would), forcing three INTs and limiting the Baltimore QB to a miniscule 18.2 passer rating
- Registered three sacks
- Forced a total of four turnovers
- Listened to three different classic hits over the PA system as Willis McGahee lay limp on the field. One of them was "Down on the Corner." Classy touch. Apparently, "Down on the 40" was not on the playlist.
show video here
The defensive beatdown is what we've come to expect out of classic Pittsburgh defense over the past 36 years, but especially in this, one of its best defensive years in a storied history.
Back in December, with a couple weeks to go in the season, we compared the 2008 Steelers defense to the great Steel Curtain defenses of the 1970s. The current Steelers looked quite good by comparison. So below are the final numbers comparing the 2008 Steelers to the Steel Curtain. (If Pittsburgh goes on to win the Super Bowl, we'll do a postseason comparison of all these teams, too.)
The only Steel Curtain defense that was clearly better than the 2008 Steelers belonged to the 1976 Steelers. In fact, some would argue that the 1976 Steelers fielded the best defense in modern NFL history.
After a rough start, that Pittsburgh team pitched three straight shutouts in the middle of the season and then two more at the end of the year. Over the final nine games, the 1976 Steelers gave up just two touchdowns and an incredible 28 points – that's just 3.1 PPG! It was as great a stretch of defensive football the NFL has ever seen.
Interestingly, it all fell apart for the 1976 Steelers with a 24-7 loss to the great 13-1 Raiders in the AFC title game. The Steelers were hamstrung because they played without their tremendous backfield tandem of Rocky Bleier and Franco Harris and couldn't move the ball, while the Oakland offense riddled this historic defense with two TD passes by Ken Stabler and 157 yards on the ground.
The fate of the 2008 Steelers is still to be determined. But below you'll see (much like we did in December) how it stacked up against the Steel Curtain through the regular season.
The defenses in 1976 and 2008 are comparable in many, many ways. The lone exception is in scoring defense, where the 1976 Steelers hold a clear advantage. But as you compare them, it pays to keep in mind how much the game has changed since then.
ONE – It's simply easier for offenses to score these days than it was in 1976, which means, obviously, that it's harder to play defense. The average team scored 19.2 PPG in 1976. The average team scored 22.0 PPG in 2008 (a difference of nearly 15 percent).
TWO – It's far more difficult to play pass defense in today's NFL than it was in 1976. The league-wide passer rating in 1976 was 67.0. The league-wide passer rating in 2008 was 81.5.
THREE – The difference in the kicking game has had a huge impact on scoring. As we noted back in December, Pittsburgh's opponents converted just 14 of 24 field goals (58%) in 1976; Pittsburgh's opponents in 2008 converted 24 of 27 field goals (88.9%). Had the 1976 Steelers faced kickers as good as those today, they would have surrendered well over 11 PPG, a difference of nearly 2 points per game from field goals alone.
Scoring defense (rank in parenthesis)
1976 Steelers – 9.9 PPG (1st)
1975 Steelers – 11.6 PPG (2nd)
1978 Steelers – 12.2 PPG (1st)
1972 Steelers – 12.5 PPG (2nd)
1974 Steelers – 13.5 PPG (2nd)
2008 Steelers – 13.9 PPG (1st)
1973 Steelers – 15.0 PPG (8th
1979 Steelers – 16.4 PPG (5th)
1977 Steelers – 17.4 PPG (7th)
Steelers defenses vs. the run
1976 Steelers – 3.22 YPA
2008 Steelers – 3.29 YPA
1979 Steelers – 3.38 YPA
1973 Steelers – 3.39 YPA
1974 Steelers – 3.41 YPA
1978 Steelers – 3.46 YPA
1977 Steelers – 3.49 YPA
1972 Steelers – 3.85 YPA
1975 Steelers – 4.23 YPA
Steelers defenses vs. the pass
1974 Steelers – 4.32 YPA
1975 Steelers – 4.64 YPA
1973 Steelers – 4.66 YPA
2008 Steelers – 4.71 YPA
1976 Steelers – 5.0 YPA
1972 Steelers – 5.0 YPA
1979 Steelers – 5.34 YPA
1978 Steelers – 5.42 YPA
1977 Steelers – 5.52 YPA
Total defense (rank in parenthesis)
1974 Steelers – 219.6 YPG (1st)
2008 Steelers – 237.2 YPG (1st)
1976 Steelers – 237.36 YPG (1st)
1973 Steelers – 237.43 YPG (4th)
1978 Steelers – 260.5 YPG (3rd)
1975 Steelers – 261.5 YPG (4th)
1977 Steelers – 263.7 YPG (7th)
1979 Steelers – 266.9 YPG (2nd)
1972 Steelers – 269.4 YPG (8th)
League-wide rank in scoring and total defense (respectively)
2008 Steelers – 1st and 1st
1979 Steelers – 5th and 2nd
1978 Steelers – 1st and 3rd
1977 Steelers – 17th and 7th
1976 Steelers – 1st and 1st
1975 Steelers – 2nd and 4th
1974 Steelers – 2nd and 1st
1973 Steelers – 8th and 4th
1972 Steelers – 2nd and 8th
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