Remember the dreaded off-season that the Pittsburgh Steelers had? They lost Ike Taylor, Troy Polamalu, and Jason Worlids to retirement (Worlids was the only real loss, as the other two were declining as players). And, the biggest loss, according to just about everyone, came when the team decided to not bring back longtime Defensive Coordinator Dick LeBeau. So far this season, it looks like that was a smart move.
Last season, sacks and defensive stops were hard to come by for the Steelers defense. The team only managed to sack the opposing quarterback a total of 33 times last season. Also, the team allowed 23 points per game, good for just 18th best in the league. LeBeau definitely had some talent on that defense, he just didn't know how to use it.
This season, things have been different so far, to say the least. So far this year, the team is on pace to total 45 sacks, which is a much better than 33 sacks. And this season it just seems like the defense is in the opposing backfield much more often. Also this year, the Steelers are only allowing 18 points per game, good for fifth best in the league. That is an impressive feat, considering they have played two of the NFL's best offensive teams in the Patriots and Cardinals (sure, they have played some bad teams too. It's still a huge improvement).
The talent the current Defensive Coordinator Keith Butler is working with is no better than last year's talent. Guys like Lawrence Timmons and James Harrison are a year older. Worlids is off the team altogether. Still, Butler is doing a great job by calling plays to fit the defense. The Steelers have a very athletic team with guys like Bud Dupree, Ryan Shazier (when healthy), Vince Williams, and Antwon Blake (sure, "Zilla" is terrible in coverage, but he is still a very athletic player). Guys like Stephon Tuitt and Cameron Heyward have emerged as very good defensive players, thanks in part to Butler.
No matter how you look it, the Steelers defense is playing much better this year than last year. And, no matter how you look at it, the Steelers defensive players this year aren't any more talented than last year's. The difference? The guy calling plays. Butler has turned this defense into a decent unit; decent is a great place to be at this point, when you consider how bad the defense was in the preseason, or even in week one against the Patriots. If Butler keeps working his newly-found magic with this defense, the Pittsburgh Steelers are Super Bowl contenders when healthy on both sides of the ball.