Long lived the dominant Steeler defenses like the Steel Curtain and Blitzburgh. The Steelers defense in the 2000s had an identity of their own with two super bowls to show for. Before the Killer B’s made the spotlight in the late 2010s with Big Ben, Le’Veon Bell, and AB, the Pittsburgh defense was what thrusted the Steelers to success. From 2000 through 2012, the Pittsburgh defense ranked in the Top 10 in least yards allowed during every season.
Steelers Defensive Roster
The Pittsburgh defense was loaded with premier talent. Their top players included: Troy Polamalu (SS), James Harrison (OLB), Ryan Clark (FS), James Farrior (ILB), Lamar Woodley (OLB), Brett Keisel (DE), Casey Hampton (NT), Larry Foote (ILB), Ike Taylor (CB), Lawrence Timmons (ILB), and Aaron Smith (DE).
Pittsburgh started the early 2000s as an interim between their Blitzburgh years and the upcoming Super Bowl seasons. After not making the playoffs for three-straight seasons, the Steelers broke out in 2001. They had a 13-3 record and were the 1-seed in the AFC playoffs. In the divisional round, the Steelers defense terrorized the Ravens, who were defending Super Bowl champs in a 27-10 win. In the AFC Championship, Pittsburgh hosted the Patriots in Tom Brady’s second ever playoff game.
Pittsburgh was 10-point favorites and were angling to make the trip to New Orleans for Super Bowl XXXVI. Although Tom Brady and Drew Bledsoe were held in check, the Steelers couldn’t stop Troy Brown on his explosive special teams plays. It did not help that Kordell Stewart threw three interceptions as the Steelers lost 24-17.
In 2004, Pittsburgh had their best regular season record in team history by going 15-1. They made it to the AFC Championship but were unable to beat the Patriots again. Tom Brady picked apart the Pittsburgh defense and put up 41 points compared to Pittsburgh’s 27.
In 2005, the Steelers defense was at its miracle in their historic playoff run. The 2005 Steelers started 7-5, but won the rest of the way. Pittsburgh beat the Bengals 31-17 in the Wildcard round, took down Peyton Manning’s high-powered Colts 21-18 in the Divisional round, and defeated the Broncos 34-17 in the AFC Championship. In Super Bowl XL, the Steelers held MVP-winner Shaun Alexander to under 100 years and zero touchdowns. Pittsburgh got the 21-10 victory even despite Ben Roethlisberger’s zero touchdowns and two interceptions.
In 2008, Pittsburgh allowed the least points in the NFL and had a first-round bye in the playoffs. Part of the Steelers success was their ability to win in close games. Pittsburgh was 6-2 in games decided by one-possession. Their two losses in those games were both home losses against the Mannings. In the AFC Championship, Troy Polamalu had a late-game interception to secure the 23-14 victory. In Super Bowl XLIII, James Harrison had a 100-yard interception return as time was expiring in the 2nd half. The Steelers held off the Cardinals comeback and won 27-23.
After Pittsburgh’s last Super Bowl appearance in the 2010 season, they were forced to fill the gaps left by retired and departing players. By the mid 2010s, Pittsburgh had a relatively new roster.