The Pittsburgh Steelers have been accumulating talent on offense for some years now, and that talent at long last emerged in a big way during the 2014 season, producing one of the most successful offenses, both in terms of yardage and scoring, in the league, as well as one of the two best offensive teams in franchise history.
Much of that success, one could say, is at least partly attributable to the Steelers’ ability to stockpile talent that has the capability of making their own plays. One of the chief ways of doing this is to break a tackle, and as Lucas Campbell pointed out yesterday, Pittsburgh is well-represented on the positional leaderboards in that category.
On defense, however, we find that the Steelers are having the opposite problem, or more accurately have too often been on the opposite end of the broken tackles discussion. For the second consecutive season, the defense has been credited with over 100 missed tackles, based on the charting of Pro Football Focus, which appears intuitively consistent with my own season-long observations and analysis.
As a result of these missed opportunities, Steelers opponents have, naturally, had greater offensive success, which is starkly reflected in the 4.3 yards per carry yield against the run game and the poor league-wide standings in terms of points allowed per game.
Obviously, the front office has been focused for the past few years on building a new foundation for the defense, having used their past three first-round draft picks, and four of the last five, on defensive players. Six of their eight draft picks during the 2015 NFL Draft came on defense, including three in the first four rounds.
As we saw on the offensive side of the ball, the accumulation of talent is only one part of the process. That talent has to mature into capable performers, both individually and collectively. That process has historically been even more laborious on the defensive side of the ball.
While the Steelers wait upon the maturation of their new young defensive talent, however, they must be equally mindful of making the plays that are available to them as they appear to be in adding more plays to be made generally.
By that I mean, of course, that there must be a greater focus on finishing plays, making sound tackles and bringing the opponent down. It’s very difficult to play successful defense, after all, if you are contributing six or seven missed tackles per game.
And it certainly can’t be all blamed on the youth movement, to be certain. The Steelers’ top three worst offenders in the missed tackles category in 2014 were Lawrence Timmons, William Gay, and Troy Polamalu.
Polamalu, of course, has since retired, and Timmons admittedly performed uncharacteristically with respect to his tackling reliability, so I would expect a regression to the mean there. The ratio of tackles made to tackles missed, however, is most concerning in the secondary, followed in a not too distant second by the inside linebackers. Improvement in efficiency must start with these areas.