Steelers defense quietly showing signs of improvement | Steel City Underground

Steel City Underground

Pittsburgh Steelers defense

I know what you’re thinking: they just had a monster game Joe! And the rest of the games were bad. So how can the Steelers quietly be having a good season?

Did you know that the Pittsburgh Steelers lead the NFL in sacks through Week 5?

That little stat supports two wins and one near-win through five games. (The near-win being the tie game against the Browns.)

Okay, so the Steelers gave up a lot of yards, especially passing yards, as well as first downs through five games. But let’s consider who they were up against:

  • The Kansas City Chiefs are 2nd in points scored
  • The Atlanta Falcons are 8th in points scored after the Pittsburgh game (entering they were averaging 29 points per game)
  • Before last weekend, both the Baltimore Ravens and Tampa Bay Buccaneers were on an offensive tear as well. The Ravens averaged 30.75 PPG while the Bucs averaged 34!

Needless to say, the Steelers have faced a juggernaut of offensive firepower as the NFL continues to see scoring soar and defenses fail. It's not a pass for what they've allowed but it is a sign that the league is heavily skewed in favor scoring points and protecting that side of the ball.

Consider these statistics. Out of 78 games (and times two, for each team playing in those games) the NFL has seen a team score 30 or more points 44 times this season.

Let me say that again: 44 times.

Of those teams who scored 30 or better, nine of them did so in a losing effort. If we lower the bar to 26 or more points, teams accomplished that feat 68 times in 2018. 68 out of 156 attempts or 43.5% of the time.

That is a mind-blowing statistic which tells me something’s wrong, not just in Pittsburgh but around the league. Putting that into perspective, the Steelers have only given up 30 or more to one team this season: the Chiefs.

And that’s despite giving up over 400 yards of offense in their first three games.

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That’s why I feel as though the Steelers defense is finally gaining some traction. They held the Ravens to only field goals in the second half of their Sunday Night Football encounter in Week 4. Consider too the starting field position for when the Steelers D has given up points. Here are some of the outliers:

  • PIT 1 – Cleveland Week 1 – Touchdown
  • CLV 45 - Cleveland Week 1 – Touchdown
  • PIT 10 - Kansas City Week 2 – Touchdown
  • TB 47 – Tampa Bay Week 3 – Touchdown
  • PIT 31 – Baltimore Week 4 – Touchdown

Five of the defensive touchdowns given up by the Steelers were with good field position (midfield or better). They’ve given up 16 total touchdowns this season over five games, and removing all six of a bad game against Kansas City (again, one of the best offenses in the league) means the Steelers have been beat ten times, two per game on average, for a TD. Take four more of these field position scores out of the equation and and that number drops to six.

Six touchdown drives over five games: I’ll take it! That’s the bend but don’t break defense we’ve become accustomed to. The Steelers average points per drive against, 1.99, also places them in the middle of the pack at 14th overall in the league, further suggesting the defense isn’t as awful as everyone initially thought.

Paired with one of the league’s sack leaders in T.J. Watt and a defense currently leading the league in sacks, that should give us a lot to be hopeful for, especially when the pressure is coming against some of the league’s better offenses. (Or so they are, at least early on!)

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The Steelers currently have a one-sack lead on the Chicago Bears, who have played one less game. No other team with five games completed has entered double-digit sacks, further cementing that Pittsburgh is definitely showing signs of life.

They’ve been limiting opponents scoring opportunities, fixing the pass defense and bringing pressure. As they enter Sunday’s game against an electric Bengals offense and a second half of the season following their bye week, those numbers could remain steady provided the Steelers offense helps keep the defense off of the field.

The key metrics to look out for besides sacks and turnovers will be getting off of the field on third down and forcing three-and-outs. Entering Sunday’s game against the Falcons, the Steelers only forced a three-and-out on 2 of their 47 total defensive series.

They tripled that figure by doing forcing four three-and-outs against Atlanta.

Hopefully that’s a sign of things to come as the season wears on and the players start to gel with one another.

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