As we’ve previously discussed here, the Pittsburgh Steelers certainly had their fair share of difficulties in generating pressure against the opposing quarterback last season, but let’s take a look at how they went about trying to bring that pressure by looking at the number of rushers that they used and the pressure they generated.
One thing that is immediately obvious is that the Steelers used less than four rushers more frequently than everybody but the Philadelphia Eagles, rushing only three defenders or less on 13.1 percent of all passing downs. Only seven teams rushed three or less more than 10 percent of the time last season.
No doubt this has a lot to do with the frequency with which the Steelers used their dime defense last season, which takes both the nose tackle and a linebacker off the field. Given that the Steelers ask their outside linebackers to drop into coverage more frequently than just about any other 3-4 defense, the stat certainly makes a lot of sense.
On the other hand, they were comparatively low on the list in bringing four rushers, by far the most frequently used rush pattern around the league. They rushed four on 57.7 percent of passing snaps, which is obviously significantly less than 4-3 defenses, but it also ranks below many 3-4 defenses as well.
The fact of the matter, however, is that they fared poorly when bringing four rushers, ranking 28th in terms of pressure from four rushers. In 360 snaps, they managed 18 sacks, 30 hits, and 56 hurries, registering a sack only on five percent of rushes. The Buffalo Bills led in sack ratio at eight percent.
When it comes to presenting five rushers, the Steelers unsurprisingly rank in the top half of the league, bringing such pressure just under 24 percent of the time, but they rank quite low in terms of bringing six or more rushers, doing so just 5.3 percent of the time.
It’s worth noting that Pro Football Focus has found that bringing five rushers has produced the best results in terms of quarterback rating, though its sample size is only a third of that of four rushers.
When they actually blitzed, the Steelers did improve their ranking some relative to the rest of the league. With five or more rushers, Pittsburgh placed 25th in generating pressure. A rather modest improvement, but improvement all the same.
On 182 rushes, the Steelers managed 15 sacks, 14 hits, and 44 hurries while bringing pressure, averaging a sack on 8.2 percent of blitzes. The Seattle Seahawks, however, averaged a sack on 12.3 percent of blitzes.
The league average sack ratio while bringing four rushers last season was 5.4, meaning that the Steelers were slightly, but not dramatically below average in that department. Their overall pressure production was slightly more below average, but still not radically bad.
On blitzes, the Steelers still fell slightly below average, as the average blitz produced a sack 8.8 percent of the time, and their overall pressure production was, again, slightly more below average than the sack ratio. They’ll be counting on growth from within to help improve these numbers, though they may never get back to where they were just a few seasons ago.