The Pittsburgh Steelers defense stepped up on Sunday afternoon to shut down what was the most successful red zone offense entering the week, as they held Carson Palmer, Larry Fitzgerald, and the Arizona Cardinals to just a single touchdown in their four total trips into the red zone, which was their only touchdown of the game.
Not only did they prevent them from scoring touchdowns on three occasions, they also became the first team this season to hold them without any points on a trip inside the 20-yard line when safety Mike Mitchell intercepted Palmer in the middle of the end zone, Arizona’s first red zone turnover of the year.
But it is important to place this in the proper perspective. This is, up to this point, an aberration from the norm for this defense. It is a step in the right direction, headed toward the desired destination, and not the current location.
On the whole, for the season, in fact, the Steelers only rank 20th in the league in terms of red zone defense, relinquishing a touchdown on trips inside the 20-yard line 58.82 percent of the time, which has been a downgrade from the 2014 season, during which the defense allowed a touchdown on 54.72 percent of trips inside the red zone, which was 19th in the league.
There has been only one other positive red zone performance during the season, which was week two, during which the defense held the 49ers to just a 25 percent success rate inside the red zone.
In the season opener, however, the Patriots steamrolled the Steelers defense, punching it into the end zone on all four trips inside the 20-yard line. The following week, they shut the Rams out of the end zone, but St. Louis had just one opportunity inside the 20.
Both the Ravens and Chargers converted on both of their opportunities in the red zone, coming away with two touchdowns apiece. In other words, for half of the season, Steelers opponents were successful in turning their red zone trips into touchdowns every time, a total of eight out of eight in those three games.
In the other three games, opponents scored just two touchdowns in nine trips inside the red zone, but overall that works out to 10 touchdowns in 17 opportunities. Over the span of the last three weeks, opponents have been good on 62.5 percent of their red zone opportunities.
The home and away splits are interesting, and stark. At home, the Steelers have allowed just 40 percent of trips inside the 20 to be converted into touchdowns, but on the road, that number spikes sharply, more than double, to 85.71 percent of the time. 10 of their 17 red zone stands have come at home.
The only team with a starker home-away disparity is the Bengals, who have allowed just 14.29 percent of red zone trips to go for touchdowns at home, but 83.33 percent on the road. Oddly, the Bills have allowed just 25 percent conversions on the road, but 76.92 percent at home.