Welcome back to the fourth installment of my series breaking down the toughest records to break in Steelers history. I’m linking parts 1 through 3 below, be sure to check them out if you haven’t already.
Before we get into the top four, I will say that the records we are going to talk about today are both incredibly impressive not to be in a team’s top two records of all time. At this point in the list, all records seem to have such a slim chance of being broken that it’s difficult to rank. The top three were particularly difficult to rank, and there are certainly arguments for a different order. But enough talk, let’s see what number four is.
Number Four: Five shutouts in the 1976 season
We touched on Jack Lambert’s 1976 season last week with record number five, but the full unit deserves a shoutout here. Simply put, the 1976 defense was incredible. It kept the opponents to less than 10 points per game. game that season, and while the offense wasn’t exactly booming in 1976, it was still about half the league average of 19.2 points per game. match.
And if you look at some of the names on that defense, it makes sense why the Steelers were so dominant. They had a total of eight Pro Bowlers on the defensive side of the ball that season: Jack Lambert, Jack Ham, Mel Blount, Glen Edwards, LC Greenwood, Mike Wagner, JT Thomas and Joe Greene. Lambert and Ham were both named first-team All-Pro.
There are tons of crazy stats about that ’76 team. They gave up just 28 points over the final nine weeks of the season, all Pittsburgh victories. They gave up just five rushing touchdowns all season and just 3.2 yards per carry. carries, both of which led the league. But perhaps most impressive of all is the team getting five shutouts in just 14 regular season games.
Those five shutouts are the most posted by any team since the AFL-NFL merger, and the record has rarely been approached since. The legendary 2000 Ravens defense put up four in 2000 (with the two extra games, I might add) and they are the only other team to get that many. Since 2004, only the 2017 Ravens have had more than two. As offenses continue to grow around the league, that record seems more and more untouchable. In fact, there were only four shutouts in the entire league last season.
How would it be broken?
The Pittsburgh Steelers had a pretty solid defense last year, ranking 10th in the league in points against. Despite this, they did not have anyone under 10 points in a game. They actually haven’t had a shutout win since December 2011 when they beat the Rams 24-0 on Christmas Eve.
Pittsburgh certainly looks to have one of the league’s better and younger defenses, but shutouts don’t sell NFL tickets and may be a thing of the past. And with most of the Steelers’ games against an offensively loaded AFC, it would be a surprise to shut out any of these teams, never mind six of them.
Number Three: Mike Tomlin 16 straight .500 or better seasons (and counting) to start career
Choosing between this and number two was absolutely brutal, but I ended up putting this at three for a few reasons that I’ll get into later.
As many Steelers fans know, Mike Tomlin has yet to have a losing season with the Steelers. He’s had a couple of close calls and needs three straight wins to close out the 2013 season as well as four to close out last season to get him there. But the Steelers have come through for Tomlin each time, and the streak still lives into 2023.
One big thing that Tomlin benefited from is consistent quarterback play for most of this streak. Ben Roethlisberger was the quarterback in 14 of 16 Tomlin seasons, with only the exception of last year and Roethlisberger’s injury in 2018. It will be interesting to see how long this streak can continue with Kenny Pickett hopefully at the helm for years to come.
It’s rare for coaches to even be with the same team for 16 seasons longer. Tomlin and Patriots head coach Bill Belichick are the only two active NFL coaches to do so.
In 2021, Tomlin broke the record of Marty Schottenheimer, who had 14 such seasons to start his career with the Browns and Chiefs. The year that broke the streak for Schottenheimer was a 4-12 dumpster fire with the Chargers in 2003, when an old Doug Flutie and a young Drew Brees split time at quarterback. Even if Tomlin’s streak is shot soon, this list doesn’t seem like a four-win by any measure.
Tomlin does not hold the NFL record for most consecutive non-losing seasons as a head coach, only in streaks to start a career. Pittsburgh’s win in Week 18 last year moved Tomlin into a third-place tie with George Halas. He trails Belichick’s 19 consecutive seasons, and Cowboys legend Tom Landry’s 21 consecutive seasons from 1964-1984.
How would it be broken?
What solidified my decision to put this third instead of number two is the Steelers’ history of finding head coaches. They have actually found the right guy to lead the team time and time again. They have only had three head coaches since 1969: Tomlin, Bill Cowher and Chuck Noll.
Not only have they been efficient, but they have also been loyal. It seems so often in today’s NFL that teams place high expectations on new coaches and quickly move on if they disappoint even a little. The Steelers are different, and that has likely played a large role in their success as an organization over the years.
While Tomlin’s record is safe for the foreseeable future, at least the Steelers are the type of franchise to give someone a chance to break it. That has put this record just below number two on the list we’ll cover on Sunday.