Pittsburgh’s defense has received plenty of praise this year, and rightly so. The latest version of the Steel Curtain closed the scoring curtain on opposing offenses all season, allowing the fewest points in the NFL during the regular season at 232.
The Steelers’ defensive coordinator, Dick LeBeau, has been hailed as a mastermind for assembling all the parts together in creating a defense that’s as difficult to prepare for as it is to play against. The NFL doesn’t award an Assistant Coach of the Year Award anymore, but if it did, certainly LeBeau and Steelers offensive line coach Sean Kugler, who quilted together a patchwork offensive line that had changes at every turn, would be finalists.
LeBeau has deflected most of the praise, and did so again this week during one of the Steelers’ press conferences.
“We’ve been fortunate to keep a pretty solid core of guys that have played a lot of years for the black and gold,” LeBeau said. “That helps us as coaches tremendously.”
LeBeau has the Steelers’ defense ahead at the finish line because he’s built the best and most consistent car. Check under the hood, and you’ll find that Pittsburgh has enjoyed rare steadiness with its roster with little turnover on its defense. In an NFL where the average length of a player’s career is 3.5 seasons, the Steelers’ 11 defensive starters have averaged 6.5 seasons of service in Pittsburgh alone.
Only one of the Steelers’ current 11 starters, defensive end Ziggy Hood, has played fewer than four years in Pittsburgh. Six of the starters have eight or more seasons with the Steelers.
That’s amazing longevity to one club (read: it’s great to play in Pittsburgh and players are far less likely to leave in free agency). That type of loyalty, from player to team and team to player, results in tremendous trust between players who are very familiar with each other in the locker room and on the field. Players react instinctively on the field, and their longevity within the system allows LeBeau to focus on nuances within his aggressive and complex 3-4 defense and not be teaching it from the start.
It’s the kind of trust that can only be built by players who have been around each other for an extended amount of time. And it’s a unique, rare bond that lies hidden within the Steelers’ success, but may well lead to another Lombardi Trophy on Sunday.
About the Author
Written by Scott Farrell
Scott Farrell is the publisher of ScotSports.com in Dallas, Texas. He is a former sports writer for The Dallas Morning News, and also works as a freelance statistician for TV sports productions, most recently for ESPN at the 2011 BCS National Championship Game. Farrell has covered high school sports in Dallas for 21 years, and has also worked in athletic media relations at SMU, Fresno State and Texas-Arlington. He won Best Sports Coverage Awards from the Texas Press Association three times and Best Sports Writing once. He is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and the U.S. Basketball Writers Association.