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Mike Tomlin Thinks 2010 Steelers Defense Was His Best



Steelers Playoff Coach Mike Tomlin

Mike Tomlin has been around some legendary players and defenses throughout his coaching career. The first elite defenses that come to mind in Pittsburgh are the 2008 and 2010 units. Tomlin was also a defensive backs coach on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ 2002 defense, which included four future Hall of Famers — Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks, John Lynch and Ronde Barber.

Tomlin won a Super Bowl with Tampa Bay in 2002, likewise for the Steelers in 2008. The Steelers 2010 team came up short in the Super Bowl. The 2008 defense led the NFL in fewest points allowed per game (13.9), total yards allowed per game (237.2), passing yards allowed per game (156.9) and was second in rushing yards surrendered per game (80.2). Tomlin doesn’t think the ’08 group was the best during his tenure in Pittsburgh, however. That title belongs to the 2010 defense.

“I just thought the ’10 group beat you up,” Tomlin said on Ben Roethlisberger’s Footbahlin podcast. “Just in terms of physicality, without a doubt the ’10 group. The Bucs group was a slash play group. And so, it’s different. Like what are we talking about a bar fight or talking about football? That ’10 group created the player safety initiative. Like seriously, let’s be honest, we are talking about historical perspective. That collection of men created what we know now as the player safety initiative. The powers that be watched them play and they said this is not good for football. This is not good for the future of football. From that perspective, how can you not say (the 2010 defense)?”

James Harrison was the face of the player safety initiative in 2010, as the All-Pro linebacker was fined a whopping $125,000 for illegal hits that season. His crushing blow on Cleveland Browns wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi in Week 5 made the front cover of Sports Illustrated. The SI headline read “Concussions” and Peter King had a column titled, “The Hits That Are Changing The Game.”

Tomlin also raved about the ’02 Bucs defense, which is universally recognized as one of the best defenses in the history of the National Football League. Tomlin basically ranks the ’02 Bucs defense and the Steelers ’10 group as 1A and 1A. Both had different styles, however.

“The Tampa group, the splash play ability of that group was sick,” Tomlin said. “Equally as sick as the physicality of the ’10 group. Like, Derrick Brooks scored five touchdowns that year. How many defensive touchdowns did we score in the Super Bowl game itself? Four? Three or four? Dwight Smith had two, Derrick Brooks had one for sure. Maybe there was another one, I can’t remember (it was three). In the NFC Championship, Ronde had a pick-six that won the game. In the week before that in the divisional game against San Fran,  I think Ronde had a pick-six. I think that team scored 13 touchdowns. They were different, but in the same neighborhood in terms of, ‘Man, I’m in the middle of something special here. Something historic.’ But they were very different. You tell me what environment I’m going in, I’ll tell you what group I want to take with me.”

Tomlin knew he “was in that space” with the ’08 and ’10 Steelers defenses because he saw it before in Tampa Bay.

“That’s what was cool about the ’08 and ’10 defenses, to be a part of it (because) I was a part of something cool before. So, I was able to appreciate it while it was happening. Like, ahaha, we got one.”

You can listen to the entire Tomlin interview on Roethlisberger’s podcast in the clip below.

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