By The Numbers: Comparing Pittsburgh's 2019 Defense to Past Units

Donnie Druin

Through ten games played, the Pittsburgh Steelers currently sit at 5-5. Despite dropping their first game in over a month to the Cleveland Browns on Thursday night, the team remains well within reach of a potential wildcard spot for postseason play. What's the reason for the recent surge in success in Pittsburgh despite sustaining injuries throughout their roster? 

Look no further than Pittsburgh's defense. 

Whether it be the contributions of T.J. Watt/Bud Dupree or new additions such as Devin Bush, Steven Nelson and Minkah Fitzpatrick, the Steelers have been able to elevate their game to new heights... heights that have put them in conversations with some of the best team defenses in recent memory. 

To put pen to paper, I decided to take a look at this year's defensive production and compare it to the last three Steelers defenses that appeared in Super Bowls: 2005, 2008 and 2010. 

I compiled data in the following categories: Points per game, yards per game, turnovers, sacks and defensive touchdowns. 

Granted, these are not the only ways to compare defensive units, and numbers don't tell the entire story of a defense. However, I believe the following statistics paint a good enough picture to start the conversation. 

A few notes before we get started:

The Steel Curtain defenses from the 1970's will not be featured. They are in an entire galaxy of their own in terms of greatness, and will be treated as such. 

Finding numbers from previous seasons isn't exactly easy. I used a multitude of sources, including ESPN, PFR and NFL.com. 

This piece is not to say the 2019 Steelers defense is one of the best in franchise history, this is only to provide a measuring stick for where they are currently at. These statistics are not final for 2019, as the season is not complete. 

Let's get started: 

Points Per Game

2008- 13.9 PPG
2010- 14.5 PPG
2005- 16.1 PPG
2019- 20.2 PPG

The standard for modern day Steelers football starts and ends with the 2008 team, as the team's 13.9 points per game is insane to comprehend given the recent performances Pittsburgh has seen on the defensive side of the ball. 

2005 and 2010's defenses were still held in high regard, and were not far behind 2008's magical defense in terms of allowing points. 2019's team currently is allowing a touchdown more per game than 2008, so take that however you wish. 

Yards Per Game

2008- 237.2 YPG
2010- 276.81 YPG
2005- 303.5 YPG
2019- 328.3 YPG

Again, the 2008 Steelers defense leads the pack with 237.2 yards per game, with the bottom team (2019's defense) allowing nearly 100 yards more on average. 2010 isn't incredibly far behind the 2008 team, as 2005 and 2019 are the only years where the Steelers allowed more than 300 yards per game. 

With six games left and a favorable schedule, it's not out of the realm of possibilities for this year's defense to squeeze under 300 yards per game. 

Turnovers

2005- 44
2008- 42
2009- 35
2019- 26

This is one category where the 2019 Steelers defense could potentially contend for the top spot, as the Steelers have already surpassed their turnover total from last season. 

However, as it stands right now, 2005's Cinderella Super Bowl team holds the lead with 44 generated turnovers. Although the team barely snuck in the playoffs as the sixth seed, you can't say the defense didn't hold their own while second-year quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was still coming into his own. 

Sacks

2008- 51
2010- 48
2005- 47
2019- 34 

While the top/third-most sack totals are only four apart from each other, I'm fairly confident the Steelers would be able to surpass the previous defenses in this category. Pittsburgh has led the league in sacks the previous two seasons with over 50+ sacks in each season, and that was without Bud Dupree's current excelled contributions. 

Defensive Touchdowns 

2019- 3
2010- 3
2008-2
2005-1 

This is such a faulty stat, as defensive touchdowns aren't really a great way to measure how great a defense is. However, it does show the team's ability to generate a turnover and further capitalize on it, as we have seen much of this same sentiment this year. 

2019's defense has essentially been Pittsburgh's best offense, as the offensive supporting cast this year is by far the worst out of the four defenses being compared. 

Concluding Thoughts 

In no way during my research did I ever attempt to seek to find a reason to lump this year's team with three other defenses that are able to either call themselves Super Bowl champions, or at worst participants of the game. Both on paper and in terms of passing the eye test, this year's squad has some catching up to do. 

However, that's not to say Pittsburgh's current defensive unit doesn't warrant respect. They're a talented squad that's young and extremely talented. The potential is there for them to be dominant on a weekly basis, and while their numbers don't exactly compare to others, some numbers may be skewed out of their favor due to poor offensive help (Turnovers, three and outs, etc). 

Perhaps the numbers may be closer when this season is all said and done. For now until their next great postseason run, every Steelers defense will be held to the standard set forth by previous greats that played well enough to hoist the Lombardi Trophy. 

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