Yet that defense has allowed three scoring drives in four chances through two preseason games — two touchdowns on the first two drives by Buffalo Aug. 14 in Toronto.
It may be only the preseason, but their team MVP believes the defense has to stop playing as if the games mean nothing.
"We're going out there and treating the preseason too much like the preseason," Pro Bowl outside linebacker James Harrison said. "We're going out there and thinking everything is just going to come when the regular season begins and we're just out there playing snap for snap, getting our timing and not playing up to the level we're capable of playing at. I don't feel that's OK."
His words came after the Bills drove 67 yards for one touchdown, then 90 yards for the second. Buffalo averaged 6.1 yards per carry in the first half and quarterback Trent Edwards completed nine of his 11 passes, two for touchdowns. In the first preseason game, the Eagles drove 70 yards but had to settle for a field goal.
"You go out there and have two teams run the length of (the) field on us three times out of four series, ... yeah, that's concerning," Harrison said.
Pittsburgh has been playing some vanilla defenses in the early going though. The Steelers rarely blitz and they hardly did anything but play their 3-4 base against Buffalo. Also, Pro Bowl nose tackle Casey Hampton missed the first game and played for the first time against Buffalo, while Pro Bowl strong safety Troy Polamalu remained on the physically-unable-to-perform list with a hamstring injury.
"I feel like our base defense is enough to do what we need to do," Harrison countered. "We're just not playing up to the level we're capable of right now. Something has to change."
More than likely, it will change when the Steelers play the Vikings Saturday night in Minnesota. The first teams are expected to play a full half and Polamalu could play in his first game.
"He's pretty much the catalyst of what we do," said free safety Ryan Clark. "The reason we are able to do the things we do so well is his ability to disguise and be athletic enough to get where he has to be.
"I think also from a psyche standpoint and preparation standpoint for offenses, he's a guy you have to prepare for. There are probably only a few guys in the league on defense you have to scheme for and I think Troy's one of those guys, and that helps us out a lot."
Polamalu was injured much of last season and had a down year for him, although he was selected for his fourth Pro Bowl. He missed all of the team's training-camp practices at Saint Vincent College on the PUP because he re-injured his hamstring trying to rush back.
Coach Mike Tomlin preferred to take extra precautions with Polamalu and have him ready for the regular season. He started practicing this week.
"He means a lot, especially from a secondary standpoint," cornerback Bryant McFadden said. "When you play opposing offenses, they really have to account for him and take note where he is at all times. He does so many positive things out there for the secondary and the defense, just the chemistry he brings to the table. He makes so many plays from a coverage standpoint, blitzing and turnovers."
"When you're not tackling, you got to play basic football," Tomlin said.
"I grew up in a generation in Virginia when Darrell Green was a situational return man of the Redskins," Tomlin said. "When he went back there, it kind of electrified the crowd. Hopefully, we have a vision of maybe having that with Santonio."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "You got to show something in the preseason. That's why we play the damn games." — LB James Harrison, upset with his defense's play through two games.