The Steelers defense is on the cusp of an accomplishment equaled twice in the 93-year history of the NFL.
In the 1930s, the Boston/Washington Redskins defense finished No. 1 in fewest yards allowed three consecutive seasons. The 1984-86 Chicago Bears matched that three-year dominance. Now, the Steelers defense, No. 1 the past two seasons, can make it three in a row.
When it comes to allowing yards, the Steelers defense is the stingiest in the NFL. But does that make them the best defense? Even their two defensive captains question it.
"I just feel like even though we were No. 1 on defense, there were a lot of things we could have done better," defensive end Brett Keisel said.
No. 1 was not good enough to prevent an 8-8 record, and it was not good enough the previous season to stop Tim Tebow in the Steelers' only playoff game.
"I think that the number is not as important as the effect you have on a football game," safety Ryan Clark said. "We were extremely, extremely hard to score on last year. I think we were hard to move the ball on last year, which is good.
"But how many games did we truly dominate? How many times did you come in and start to write or speak, 'Yeah, the defense dominated this game, the Steelers defense won this game?"
The Steelers need to do much more than prevent yards. They need to hold leads, prevent big plays at the wrong time and produce more sacks and turnovers, and they know that.
The team's sacks (37) and forced turnovers (20) were way down from their days when they were truly dominant. And they let all kinds of leads escape them, losing fourth-quarter leads and the game four times.
"Where if you look at a year like '08, it was almost every game we did something in that game other than stop people that helped us to win," Clark said. "That's how you get better, that's the way you improve, that's the difference between being 8-8 and 12-4."
That 2008 defense that helped bring home a sixth Lombardi Trophy had the same NFL rankings as last season's -- No. 1 in fewest yards overall and passing, and No. 2 against the run. The 2008 defense, however, ravaged offenses. They sacked quarterbacks 51 times and had 20 interceptions. They returned two interceptions and one fumble for a touchdown.
That's the kind of defense they want to have in 2013, no matter what ranking in yards allowed they achieve. They lost three starters in outside linebacker James Harrison, nose tackle Casey Hampton and cornerback Keenan Lewis from last season.
Inside linebacker Larry Foote explained why he thinks they will be better on defense.
"The experience our young guys got last year. Just the growth of those guys. And I think we're loaded at corner, there are five of them who can play for us.
"We need Jason Worilds, Steve McLendon and Jarvis Jones to fill big shoes, but I think those guys are capable of doing it. I think we'll be better than last year, just off experience."
The Steelers through the years have led the league in fewest yards allowed 10 times, more than any other franchise. Despite doing it the past two years, they were not picked among the NFL's top five defenses by SI.com.
"That's fine," was Clark's reaction. "We have to go out on Sunday and play the games. The things that you know -- we're going to run to the ball, we're going to be physical, we're going to hit people and let the chips fall where they may.
"There are not a lot of running backs and receivers who I think go into a week saying I can't wait to play the Pittsburgh Steelers."
DeCastro in better mood, too
One year ago, David DeCastro was angry. Angry at everything, most vividly the right knee injury in the preseason that required surgery because of a dislocated kneecap, torn medial collateral ligament and torn patellar tendon.
DeCastro, scheduled to start at right guard in the first game of the season, instead opened 2012 on the short-term injured reserve list. He returned to start in three games, play in four at the end of the season.
Sunday, he finally gets a chance to run through the tunnels at Heinz Field to start the season opener. ProFootballFocus gave him the highest grade of any Steelers offensive lineman in the preseason when he allowed just two quarterback pressures in 68 pass-block attempts.
"Not that I took it for granted before, but you just appreciate it more after what I went through last year," DeCastro said. "I'm excited, I am. I'm happy. I'm happy to be healthy, my knee feels great, I'm happy the way my rehab went."
DeCastro often was surly last year, and why not? He also had seen another good rookie, Sean Spence, have his knee ripped apart and possibly his career. It could happen at a moment's notice.
"You go through a lot of things, you try to just forget about it," DeCastro said. "I was really angry. There were a lot of expectations, and you put a lot of pressure on yourself. You kind of step back and just get back to why you like playing football, just enjoying it, and that's kind of where I am, so I am in a good place right now."
The only change in the injury report Thursday was minor: Jarvis Jones went through a full practice not a limited one. The official report still has will fullback Will Johnson (hamstring) and tight end Heath Miller (knee) going through limited participation and running back Le'Veon Bell (foot) out.
For more on the Steelers, read the blog, Ed Bouchette on the Steelers at www.post-gazette.com/plus. Ed Bouchette: email@example.com and Twitter @EdBouchette. First Published September 6, 2013 4:00 AM