Much like his predecessor Dick LeBeau, Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler believes that in order for his unit to be successful, they must stop the run, tackle the catch and don’t get beat deep.
While the 2015 version of the Steelers defense has done well against the run for the most part in the team’s first nine games, tackling the catch has been a roll of the dice on a week-to-week basis. When it comes to not getting beat deep this season, Butler’s unit certainly needs to improve in that area.
While the Steelers defense has only given up 27 passing explosive plays so far this season, 20 of them have come on deep passes thrown more than 15 yards past the line of scrimmage. While that’s an improvement over the 27 deep pass explosive plays that they allowed last season through the team’s first 9 games, the stat is somewhat misleading.
While explosive plays are measured by 20 yards or more, deep passes are measured by 16 yards or more yards past the line of scrimmage and so far this season the Steelers defense has allowed a completion rate of 47.5% on passes thrown that far down the field. That percentage is the seventh-worst in the league heading into Week 10. Last season the Steelers defense allowed 40.3% of all deep passes to be completed against them. It should be noted, however, that after their first nine games of the 2014 season that that percentage was 53.7%. So it goes without saying that they improved in that area during the second half of the season.
Of the 29 deep passes that the Steelers defense have allowed to be completed against them so this season, nearly half (14) have come on first downs and that’s the second-most amount allowed in the league so far this season. On top of that, 12 of those completed deep passes on first downs resulted in explosive plays of 20 yards or more with the average gain being 32.75 yards.
Sunday at Heinz Field, the Steelers defense will face a Cleveland Browns offense that has competed 39.7% of their deep pass attempts this year. However, if quarterback Josh McCown plays in the game like many think, he’ll enter the contest with a 41.5% completion rate on his deep throws in 2015. The Browns deep pass threats this year have been wide receiver Travis Benjamin and tight end Gary Barnidge as the two have combined to catch 17 of the 23 deep passes completed thrown so far this season. Benjamin, however, only has two deep pass receptions in the Browns last four games and none in their last two.
Hopefully, the Steelers defense can improve their deep pass defense in the second half of this season just as they did last year.
2015 Defensive Deep Pass Completion Percentages Through Week 9