There are some metrics by which the Pittsburgh Steelers defense has not been performing particularly well this season. As I highlighted yesterday, they rank toward the bottom third of the league in terms of red zone defense, in spite of coming off its most impressive such performance of the season.
The Steelers defense also ranks 23rd in the league in terms of total yards allowed per game, surrendering an eye-popping 376.5 yards per game through the first six games of the season. They rank 26th against the pass, giving up 283.2 yards through the air, against a 69.2 completion percentage at 7.7 yards per attempt. They give up a first down through the air 40.2 percent of the time, second-worst in the league.
There are other categories in which they have been strong, however. They have given up the fourth-fewest explosive plays through the air league-wide, in spite of the high volume of yardage surrendered. They rank sixth in the league with 17 sacks.
All other statistics are trumped by one, however, and that is points allowed per game. In that category, the Steelers defense ranks fifth, allowing just 18 points per game, which is a statistic befitting some of the great defenses of the 2000s.
This is all despite surrendering a season-high 28 points in the season opener. They have shaved off a full 10 points off of that average in the ensuing five games, holding four opponents to 20 points or less in that span, including one under 10 points, and another under 15.
If there is any statistic upon which a defense should be measured, it is points allowed, and by that metric, the Steelers do indeed have among the best defenses in the league, right now, up through the first six weeks of the season.
That can change in a hurry any given week now. While I have not done the research, I strongly suspect that they are one of few teams to as of yet not given up at least 30 points in a game, though admittedly they have already gotten some of their biggest scoring threats out of the way.
Of course, all statistics play into one another. The Steelers have nine takeaways on the season, which are nine potential scoring drives ended. They had a red zone interception end one threat last week, and the week before they recorded a pick six.
Other drives have been stalled or ended by sacks, or goal line stands, as the 49ers learned on multiple occasions in the Steelers’ home opener. Pittsburgh perhaps no longer possesses a stifling defense that will consistently hold quarterbacks to under 200 yards throwing and teams to under 300 yards, but the game is no longer built that way.
It seems that the best balance for a team to possess today is an excellent offense paired with a timely and opportunistic defense, rather than the other way around. However this defense continues to evolve over the course of this season, it seems to have already met or exceeded the expectations of many, with the points to show it.