Both defensive units of the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens have a couple of things in common. One thing is that both teams were atop the rankings in several defensive categories last season. The other thing is that both defenses are old, or shall I say experienced.
The Ravens and the Steelers both finished the 2011 NFL season with 12-4 records, with Baltimore claiming the AFC North championship because they defeated Pittsburgh twice in the regular season.
The Steelers eventually loss to the Denver Broncos in the AFC Wildcard round of the playoffs, while the Ravens were one dropped pass away from defeating the New England Patriots and advancing to Super Bowl XLVI.
Looking at where both defenses ranked in the major defensive categories last season can spark much debate of which defense is more superior. There wasn’t much difference between the two teams when came down to the statistics.
In total defense, Pittsburgh was first in the league, allowing an average of 271.8 yards per game, while Baltimore was third (288.9 ypg). In the air, the Steelers allowed 171.9 ypg (1st), and the Ravens 196.2 ypg (4th). When it came to stopping the run, Pittsburgh’s 99.8 ypg (8th) didn’t top Baltimore’s 92.6 ypg (2nd). In the defensive category that matters the most, the Steelers ranked number one in both total points allowed (227) and in touchdowns allowed (23). The Ravens weren’t too far behind with allowing 266 total points (3rd) and 26 touchdowns (3rd).
The only glaring difference between both defenses was the teams’ sack total. The Ravens, led by 2011 Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs, racked up 48 sacks (3rd), while the Steelers ended the regular season in a tie for 17th with 35 sacks. I think this was partly due to James Harrison being injured for four games.
It’s amazing how both of these teams, despite their aging players, performed at such a high level throughout last season. Now the question is, with both units being a year older, can they do the same in 2012? Furthermore, which defense is better?
The Steel City’s defense has six projected starters that are over the age of 30. Ryan Clark (33 in October), Casey Hampton (35 in September), Harrison (34), Brett Keisel (34 in September), Troy Polamalu (31), and Ike Taylor (32) are all key components to Pittsburgh’s defense.
The Ravens don’t have as many defensive starters in the 30-something club, but still are important cogs in Baltimore’s defensive machine. Ray Lewis (37) anchors the corps, alongside Ed Reed (34 in September) and Suggs (30 in October).
By looking at the numbers, it seems as if Pittsburgh was the better defense, ranking first in four categories. That alone should settle my argument of which defense is better. However, if you want me to continue, I will.
Both the Steelers and the Ravens run a 3-4 defensive scheme. If you ask me, Baltimore does a very good job of playing the 3-4, but history has shown that Pittsburgh has definitely made the blueprint on how to play in a 3-4 defense.
Going back to the Bill Cowher era, the Steelers have always been successful in the 3-4 defense. So successful that the 3-4 has helped Pittsburgh appear in four Super Bowls since the 1995 season, winning two of them.
I know you may be thinking, “Baltimore won a Super Bowl, and that defense was considered one of the greatest single-season defenses of all-time.” That is true, but the Ravens were still in a 4-3 defense at the time. Since they have switched to the 3-4, they have been to zero Super Bowls.
The Steelers and Ravens both have outstanding defenses, and, will no doubt, be highly ranked this upcoming season. However, looking at the numbers from last season, I’d have to give the Steelers the edge on being the better defensive unit. Some may see their age as a negative, but I believe that their high number of experienced players is far more valuable than youth and inexperience.
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