Steelers Defense Off to Dominant Statistical Start
Through two games, the Steelers are 2-0. It hasn’t been pretty at times, but you can’t ask for a better start than 2-0. The talk of the town has been the Steelers defense, and for good reason.
In week 1, the defense was dominant. Their dominance of Saquon Barkley in particular, was impressive. Against Denver in week 2, the defense as a whole wasn’t as remarkable. They were still very good, and the defensive line was incredible as usual, but the secondary could have been better. All things considered, the defense has been great through two games, and the stats back up that claim.
The vanilla stats for the Steelers defense are impressive. Their 37 points allowed are tied for sixth-least around the league. 610 total yards allowed through two games ties them for second-least in the league with the divisional rival Baltimore Ravens. They’ve allowed 133 yards on the ground, the best in the league. One area for improvement is passing yards allowed, where they rank 14th. But there’s a lot more to statistics than just the numbers on the surface. A deeper dive into the numbers is where the start of the season really gets impressive.
While they have allowed a decent amount of passing yards, the secondary has still performed well so far this season. Opposing quarterbacks have completed just 56.3% of passes against the Steelers this year, the best mark in the league. Furthermore, opposing quarterbacks have a 78.3 quarterback rating against the Steelers, the fifth-best number in the NFL. In adjusted net yards per pass attempt (ANY/A), the all-encompassing statistic to measure a pass defense, the Steelers rank fourth in the league allowing 4.7 ANY/A.
Pittsburgh’s defensive statistics get more impressive when evaluating their defensive line. 2.9 rushing yards allowed per attempt is tied for the top spot in the league. Perhaps their most standout statistic is quarterback hits. 27 through two games is by far the most in the league, eight more than the second-place Ravens. Of course, this pace isn’t sustainable. But just for fun, we’ll point out that over 16 games, this comes out to 216 QB hits. For reference, 118 QB hits by the Steelers last year was the most in the league. So, yeah. Their ability to get after the quarterback is off to a historic start.
The reason for a lot of their success getting after the quarterback is an absurdly high blitz rate. Pittsburgh has blitzed on 61.7% of dropbacks this year; they are the only team over 50%. So as that number comes down (it will), they probably won’t get to the quarterback quite as much. However, the tradeoff will be that less blitzing will take some pressure off of the secondary. And as we know from previous years, the pass rush will have no problem getting home without the help of linebackers and blitzing members of the secondary. T.J. Watt, Bud Dupree, Cam Heyward and company will keep making plays, and the secondary will benefit from it. Pittsburgh has led the league in sacks for three straight seasons, so don’t be surprised to see them do it again.
For all the good things that can be said about the Steelers defense so far, there is one bad thing. It has to do with penalties. Total penalties have actually been a bright spot for the defense. Eight total defensive penalties and 55 penalty yards against are both second-fewest in the league. The problem is that they are giving up too many first downs via penalty. All eight of their defensive penalties have resulted in a first down, the third-most in the league. It was a major problem against Denver. As a team, they are solid on third downs. When they clean up the penalties, they will get off the field at a high rate. But they need to clean up the penalties first.
Overall, it’s hard not to be impressed with how the Steelers have played on defense so far. They aren’t allowing a high percentage of passes to be completed. Running backs aren’t racking up many yards. Opposing quarterbacks hardly have any time to get a pass off with the way Pittsburgh has been getting pressure. They have the best red zone defense in the league so far. If this level of play can be sustained throughout the season, pencil Pittsburgh into the playoffs awhile.