Last season, the Pittsburgh Steelers defense allowed 4.36 yards per rush and that was good for a 25th overall league ranking. Additionally, that was the highest average allowed by a Steelers defense dating back to at least 1988 (depression and tears caused me to stop looking back any further).
While the rush defense was bad, according to the average, it wasn’t as bad as many of you might think. In an effort to dig further inside those rushing numbers, I decided to look at the success rates of all of the runs that weren’t kneel downs.
Generally, most deem a play in the NFL as being ‘successful’ as one that gains 40% of the needed yardage on 1st down, 60% of the needed yardage on 2nd down and 100% of the needed yardage on both 3rd and 4th down. That makes sense, right? If a defense allows 8 yards on a 3rd down and 10, they essentially did their job as they likely were able to get off the field by forcing the opposition to punt.
For the Steelers defense last season, they allowed 44.4% of the running plays that weren’t kneel downs to be successful. In order to give that number some perspective, I also had to find the success rates of the other 31 teams and as you can see in the table below, the Steelers actually finished in the top 10 as far as success rates against them goes. However, the thing that sticks out in that same table is the average yards on those 360 rushes against them that weren’t kneel downs. 4.48 yards per rush. Yikes. Additionally, 25% of those runs resulted in a first down. (You might like to know that 17 of 41 of those rushes came on 3rd down.)
So, how could a defense with such a decent success rate rank so poorly overall? I think you probably see by now that the defense gave up more than their fair share of long runs which went a long way to dilute their yards per carry against average. In fact the defense allowed 56 runs last year of 10 yards or more. That was 15.6% of all non kneel downs and those 56 runs resulted in 848 yards gained which was 52.8% of all the rushing yards they allowed last season.
So, how did the defense do on the other 304 qualifying rushes against them? You might be surprised to know that they only allowed 2.51 yards per rush on those.
I talk a lot about how explosive passing plays of 20 yards or more can crush a defense and the same goes for runs of 10 or more yards. The Steelers defense gave up their fair share of both last year and in order to stop the ones through the air, they will need to get the ones on the ground under control first.
It all starts with tackling and as we saw last year, the Steelers defense needs a lot of improvement in that area.
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