The performance by the Denver Broncos’ defense throughout the regular season and in the postseason caught the attention of the NFL at large for several reasons. The most obvious of those reasons is the age-old mantra of “defense wins championships.”

The less obvious, but more important reason is the fact that balanced teams are historically more successful in the Super Bowl. But a defense doesn’t necessarily have to be dominant to take home a Vince Lombardi Trophy. It simply has to be better in certain areas.

Wade Phillips’ unit in Denver was among the league’s best in several categories, including scoring defense (fourth), yards per play allowed (first), points per drive allowed (first), sacks (first) and sack percentage (first), among others.

But the key stats that made the Broncos dominant during their postseason run were sacks, takeaways, and opponents’ third down conversion percentage. In each of their three victories Denver recorded at least three sacks per game, won the turnover margin and held their opponents to a third down conversion rate of less than 50 percent (a combined 7-for-42).

There was another defense in the AFC that accomplished that same criteria six times during the regular season and once more in the playoffs, winning six of those seven games: the Pittsburgh Steelers. Not only were those numbers prevalent in their 11 combined wins, but the exact opposite was evident in their losses.

The Steelers had a record of 6-2 when they sacked the quarterback at least three times and 5-5 when they didn’t.

They were 9-1 when winning the turnover margin and 0-6 when losing it. (In three of those games the margin was -3 or worse, which reflects just as much — if not more — on the offense than the defense.)

When holding their opponents to less than 50 percent on third down opportunities, the Steelers were 10-3. When they failed, they were 1-4.

That tells us three things about the 2015 Steelers defense: (1) the pass rush improved dramatically, but can still be better; (2) they improved dramatically at forcing takeaways, but can still be better; (3) they improved dramatically on third downs, but can still be better.

I think you see my point.

When 14 players on your defense record at least one sack and two more are credited with half of a sack, it’s hard to argue with that kind of progress. It’s the same when seeing 17 defenders responsible for at least one takeaway, whether forcing a fumble, recovering a fumble or intercepting a pass.

Should we expect this kind of output on a weekly basis? Of course not. That would be very unrealistic. But knowing a couple of subtle tweaks could possibly make those numbers better is the fun part.

The outside linebacker group of James Harrison, Arthur Moats, Bud Dupree and Jarvis Jones combined for 15 sacks, but Harrison was the only one of the group with at least five.

Getting sack production from all four players is good to have, but two starters need to emerge from that group, and having the two young former first-round draft picks (Dupree and Jones) become that pair would be a really nice bonus.

Improved pass coverage might help those sack numbers go up, and should also help those third down conversion numbers move even further downward. But as of right now, Ross Cockrell and Cortez Allen are the only two cornerbacks who played in 2015 under contract for 2016 with a healthy Senquez Golson on the way.

We already know that a healthy Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell, Martavis Bryant, Heath Miller and DeAngelo Williams are prolific enough to help the Steelers score enough points to beat any opponent. But in order to play in the last game of the season and win, they’ll need a more competent defense to keep the other team off the board.

They may not have one yet, but they’re on the right track, and the numbers show they’re closer than we think.

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