About That Steelers Pass Defense…

The Steelers secondary and pass defense has been a topic of discussion and concern for much of the regular season. In November, I took a look at the Steelers play against the pass and argued that it wan’t as bad as its reputation (a lot of 15 yard gains on third and 20).

Now that all 16 regular season games are in the books, here’s how they finished…

When all is said and done, the Steelers allowed the 12th most passing yards in the NFL (3,425), but did so while facing the fourth most pass attempts (593).

The other rankings…

* Yards Per Pass Attempt: 6.1 (lowest in the NFL)
* Passing Touchdowns Allowed: 15 (third lowest in the NFL)
* Passing Plays 20+ Yards: 35 (lowest in NFL)
* Interceptions: 21 (fifth most in the NFL)
* Opponents Passer Rating: 73.1 (second lowest in the NFL)
* Sacks: 48 (most in the NFL)
Football OutsidersDVOA Against The Pass: -13.0% (second lowest in NFL)

That’s not bad at all, and the rankings are very similar to where they finished in 2008, when they were also first in yards per attempt, sixth in interceptions, third in touchdowns allowed, second in opponents passer rating, second in sacks, and first in DVOA against the pass.

We all saw what Tom Brady did to the Steelers back in November, and should the two teams happen to meet again (and I’m not looking ahead, the Steelers still have to win what will surely be a difficult game first; I’m not taking anything for granted), it very well could happen again. But I believe that has more to do with the way Brady and the Patriots are playing than how the Steelers are playing.

Brady is playing the best football of his career (yes, I think he’s been better than their 16-0 season in 2007) and has had 12 games with a passer rating over 100. The game against the Steelers was only his seventh best performance of the season.

Other than that, when teams are forced to throw 45 passes a game because they can’t run and are losing by 20 points in the fourth quarter, they’re going to pick up some yardage. Doesn’t mean it’s effective.

The Steelers don’t give up big plays, they don’t give up touchdowns, they force turnovers, they get sacks. And I’m still left wondering how Ike Taylor didn’t get more recognition for the job he did this season.

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  • Steelers Fan

    High caliber analysis. Sometimes the numbers lie, sometimes they expose the lie. I’ve always been interested in an innovative stat “plays won” (Not hard to define a play as win/lose or draw…and you can weed out the nine yard throws on third and 15, versus the nine yard throws on first and 10.)

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_UR6KXGPFIFYZSVJNCXCJNHDQJQ Bob Costas

      Steelers Fan, That’s exactly what Football Outsiders formulas are designed to do.

      Nice job Adam. Keep a link to this handy next time some complains about the cushions the corners give to receivers.

  • David

    Adam, very nice. The tell-tale stat for me, though, is how many percentage of the passes achieved a 1st down on 3rd down. But very nice.

  • Jason F

    I think the consensus has been that our pass defense is pretty good overall, but vulnerable when we don’t get enough pressure, the QB has a quick release, or isn’t rattled by hits easily. Brady has all of those, and the extra protection from the NFL (an extra striped blocker in the box, if you will). We can take him on with the skill set our players have IF we can disguise the defenses enough. I think we will if we meet in the playoffs, because Lebeau will adjust (I hope, I really hope he doesn’t just stick to the normal plan).

  • EasyLikeSundayMorning

    Does this mean that we’ve underrated BMac this year?  I think FO had us as top 5 against both number 1 and number 2 opponent receivers.

    • Mike L

      A few things here. Ike does not always cover the #1 against Atl, B-Mac was on Roddy White with help. Also teams often try to spread the steelers out so they can take linebackers off the field. The Steelers have played good total defense making the CBs look good. But you can at least make a strong arguement of B-Mac being a large upgrade over Gay.

  • EasyLikeSundayMorning

    One thing that I’ll be watching for in the playoffs from our pass defense is our combined defensive sacks and INTs. 

    If that number is low, it will be hard to beat Peyton or Brady (or Brees or Rodgers or…). If that number is high, we can beat anyone.  With 69, our season average has been a very strong 4.3 per game.

    In all of our 4 losses, we had lower than 4.3: Ravens 2 (one sack, one INT on 37 attempts), Saints 3 (two sacks, one INT on 28 attempts), Pats 0 (on 43 attempts), Jets 1 (sack on 29 attempts).

    Remarkably, there were only 3 other games in which we gave up more than 13 points.  In those, only once were we above 4.3: Bengals 5 (four sacks, one INT on 36 attempts).  Against the immortal Chad Henne, we had 2 (one sack, one INT on 36 attempts). Against the Bills, it was 3 (two sacks, one INT on 45 (!) attempts).

    On a per play basis, this is even more stark. We’ve faced 593 passes, so we had one sack or INT per 8.6 pass attempts. Of the 7 games listed above, we were worse than 8.6 against only the Bengals.

    I didn’t include fumbles recovered because FO says that those are luck / random. With Silverback, I’m not sure that’s true. I’ll take them anyway.

    I’m trying to think of an acronym for this stat.  In honor of Tomlin, maybe it should be SPATs (splash plays against throws).  Any other suggestions?

  • EasyLikeSundayMorning

    I just looked up Ben’s stats.  He has been sacked 12 times ant picked off 5 times in 12 games and 389 attempts. So against Ben, opposing defenses’ SPATs are 1.4 per game and one every 22.9 plays.  

    In other words, he’s been outstanding at avoiding negative plays.  Adding in how many positive plays and long pass completions he’s had and this is one of the best seasons by a Steelers QB ever, if not the best.

  • EasyLikeSundayMorning

    Opps! Misread Ben’s sacks. It was 32, not 12. So that’s 3.1 SPATs per game and one every 10.5 passes.

  • EasyLikeSundayMorning

    Oops, not opps. I’ll try not to misspell irony.

  • U Know

    Thanks, I also reviewed our defense against the Patriots and we did a very good job in the 1st Half. The score was 10-3 and we stopped them 3 out of 5 times. Our offense was overmatched by Belichek against Arians. If we come away with 2 TD’s in the 1st half it would have changed the game.

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