The Jerome Bettis led teams of the late 90′s and early prided themselves on running the football and stopping the run. They struggled to pass the ball efficiently and the defense struggled to stop the pass. Quarterbacks like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning were able to pick apart the defense and ended multiple playoff runs.
In the early 2000′s the Steelers took a chance on quarterback Tommy Maddux, who became an instant sensation in Pittsburgh, and the team’s offense changed into a passing offense. Maddux put up some big numbers in his short time with the Steelers, but the team struggled to win with Maddux at the helm. The Steelers finished the 2003 season with a record of 6-10. A poor record earned the Steelers their highest first round pick since 1992 and they drafted quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
When Maddux went down with an injury early in 2004 Roethlisberger had to take over and the Steelers changed again. Roethlisberger was used to manage the game while the offense focused mainly on their run game. The defense continued to play well, but still struggled with passing teams. When the Steelers won Super Bowl XL they did so behind a strong running game and a top defense.
As Roethlisberger has grown the Steelers have transitioned more towards the passing game and won Super Bowl 43. Roethlisberger has continued to improve and the Steelers have built the offense around him, but for the first time in a long time the Steelers could change on defense.
Ziggy Hood and Cameron Heyward aren’t as stout against the run as Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel. However, Heyward and Hood are better pass rushers than their predecessors. Alameda Ta’amu can take on multiple blockers and also push the pocket on pass plays. Along with James Harrison and Lamarr Woodley at outside linebacker the Steelers have a lot of players able to push the pocket. However, they may no longer be the team that can hold everyone to sub-70 yard games running the ball. With this pass rush as well as the youth and speed at corner they may continue to be one of the top pass defenses in the league (the Steelers ranked #1 against the pass in 2011).
Cortez Allen, Curtis Brown, and Keenan Lewis have the chance to be much better than their recent counterparts. Players like Bryant McFadden and William Gay struggled in the past in man coverage, an area in which these three can excel. Allen, Brown, and Lewis can play zone coverage as well as shut down wide receivers in man coverage.
As the league moves more and more towards the passing game the Steelers seem to be moving in the right direction on defense. In 2011 the Steelers finally showed an ability to shut down Tom Brady. In 2012 they will face Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, Mike Vick, Phillip Rivers, and Tony Romo as well as Joe Flacco and Andy Dalton twice. The Steelers pass defense will be tested early and often in the 2012 season and will have to prove that 2011 was not a fluke season.
With new offensive coordinator Todd Haley taking over the Steelers will have a new look on offense as well. With a top pass defense and offense the Steelers could be a force to be reckoned with in 2012.