2013 Preview: Ranking the Five Best Defenses in the NFL

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2. Pittsburgh Steelers

Even though the Pittsburgh Steelers had an 8-8 record, they had an incredible defense in 2012.

Pittsburgh ranked first in total defense, allowing an average of under 276 yards per game while surrendering just 19.6 PPG. The offense struggled down the stretch and caused an early exit from Pittsburgh, but the defense was strong. In the game that eventually eliminated the Steelers, Pittsburgh lost 13-10. Seven of Cincinnati’s points in that game came on an interception returned for a touchdown by Cincinnati’s Leon Hall.

The Steelers allowed 15 less yards per game than the second place team, the Broncos, which resulted in 239 yards. Pittsburgh never allowed more than 34 points in a game, and while 34 points is a lot, there was a lot behind that number. The San Diego Chargers recovered a fumble for a touchdown, and they scored on three drives starting in Steeler territory (one inside the red zone). This all totaled up to 24 points, and the Chargers accumulated just 294 yards (which is below-average).

December 23, 2012; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton (14) is sacked by Pittsburgh Steelers inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons (94) and defensive end Brett Keisel (right) during the first quarter at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

These bad breaks defined Pittsburgh’s season. Against the Oakland Raiders, the Steelers also allowed 34 points. However, two came on drives starting in Steeler territory, giving Oakland an easy 14 points. The Raiders managed 321 yards, which is below-average. However, Oakland escaped with a win.

Despite lots of injuries, the Steelers managed to hold together and perform very well on defense. LaMarr Woodley and Troy Polamalu missed a total of 12 games, and Ike Taylor also missed four. While there were no standouts on defense, the team played together very well as a unit. Three players recorded over 100 tackles, and six players recorded at least four sacks.

While the Steelers lack a player lighting up the stat sheet on defense and changing a game (which prevents them from being first), they have a great defensive unit that can and will play very well together. The stats show that they have a great defense, and they proved that despite the collective struggles of the team. If the ball bounces their way and field position isn’t an issue in 2013, the Steelers can be a dangerous team.

And that’s mostly because of their defense.