The Pittsburgh Steelers defense has been taking a lot of flak lately even after a solid performance against Cincinnati. Some people went on to say that the only reason Pittsburgh found success on Sunday night was due to Andy Dalton’s sophomore slump.
Dalton’s numbers don’t lie, as he has not been performing as well as a year ago. Nonetheless, he is still 14th in the league in QB rating, making him far from the worst quarterback the Steelers have played this season.
The Steelers found a way to hold Dalton to just 105 yards passing, so as critics ask how far this team can go with a struggling defense, I am forced to ask: which defense they are talking about?
Statistically speaking, Pittsburgh is still a top-notch defense. They rank second in yards per game, behind only San Francisco.
Pittsburgh is usually been ranked near the top in yardage allowed because of their run-stopping ability. Not so this season.
Pittsburgh ranks ninth in the league in rush yards per game allowed. The big yardage stopper has been in the air where they rank second, again behind only the 49ers.
The problem to look at is the points they’ve allowed. The Steelers are 10th in the league in that category. For such a low-yardage team it makes you wonder where the points are coming from. There are a few answers to that problem.
- The defense simply needs to create turnovers. Currently Pittsburgh has a plus-1 turnover margin. The top scoring defense in the league right now is Chicago. They allow more yards per game than the Steelers, but also have a turnover margin of plus-13. Easy to see why Pittsburgh allows more points.
- In order to create those beloved turnovers you need to apply pressure. Why do the Giants and Texans have solid turnover margins right now? They get after the quarterback. JJ Watt leads the league in sacks right now with 9.5 sacks after just 7 games. The Steelers are tied for 24th in the league with 11 sacks. For a team that traditionally disguises the blitz so well and has forces on the edge, 11 sacks are not nearly enough. Perspective: league leading Green Bay has 24 sacks. James Harrison’s knee injury is still the concern for me. As he gets healthier the sack number will increase.
- A third option is to discuss the offense’s ability to play the field-position game and not be afraid to allow your defense to play the long field behind you. Put faith in them and see if it pays off. Don’t give the opposition a short field to work with and according to statistics they will get off the field.
Yes, these are all just statistics. There is so much more to defense than just crunching a few numbers, but the fact remains the defense is not as bad as Steelers fans are making it out to be.
They did give up a few late drives, but it’s early in the season. Settle in because the AFC North is still pretty wide open.