Commentary

Dominant defense sets Steelers apart

Originally Published: January 27, 2009
By Ned Macey | Football Outsiders
The Steelers return to the Super Bowl three years after their Super Bowl XL victory looking very much the same. They have the same quarterback, leading receiver and leading rusher. Their defensive coordinator is the same, and their four leading tacklers are still starters. Including the playoffs, each team entered the Super Bowl with 14 wins. According to Football Outsiders' DVOA rankings, the 2005 team had a DVOA 1.1% higher, little more than statistical noise.

Despite the similarities in personnel and performance, this year's Steelers are different from the 2005 champions. This year's team was worse offensively but better defensively. The 2005 Steelers ranked eighth in DVOA on offense, while this year's team ranks 20th. The defensive rank improved only from second to first, but this year's Steelers had one of the best defenses of recent seasons.

The offensive decline is unexpected because quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is undoubtedly a better player than he was three years ago, in only his second season. The problem is the offensive line. The only starter still around since 2005 is Max Starks, who has moved from right tackle to left tackle. Pro Bowl-caliber players like center Jeff Hartings and left guard Alan Faneca have been replaced by average players Justin Hartwig and Chris Kemoeatu, respectively.