On the surface, the Pittsburgh Steelers defense has played much better this season than most of us expected them to. However, while takeaways and sacks are up this season, the defense still has problems when it comes to giving up yards and getting off the field.
For starters, you might be surprised to know that the Steelers defense has been on the field quite a bit this season. In fact, their average defensive plays per game of 66.3 is currently the ninth most in the league. While many will want to try to point to the team’s 3rd down conversion rate of 39.6% as the main reason for that, it goes much deeper than just that.
Good defense starts on first downs and this is where the Steelers have really been lacking so far this season.
Let’s specifically focus in on 1st and 10 situations. So far this season the Steelers defense has faced 273 of those instances and they’ve allowed an average of 6.3 yards per play on those plays, which is sixth-worst in the league. Now, being as a few big plays can certainly skew that average, let’s look at the percentage of successful plays allowed by the Steelers so far this season on 1st and 10s.
A successful play on first and 10 is one that gains 4.5 yards or more and the Steelers defense has allowed 44.7% such plays so far this season. That’s ninth-worst in the league through the first 10 weeks of the NFL season.
Let me take that a step further for you. Of those 273 1st and 10 plays that the Steelers defense has faced so far this season, 38.5% have resulted in a gain of 7 yards or more and that’s the worst percentage in the league through the first 10 weeks of play. Additionally, 26.7% of those 273 1st and 10 plays that the Steelers defense has faced have resulted in either a first down or a touchdown, and again, that’s the worst percentage in the league.
Of the 31 passing explosive plays allowed so far this season by the Steelers defense, 18 have come on first downs and the average gains on those plays is 30.44.
Let me end this statistical breakdown by giving you the Steelers defensive ANY/A number so far this season on first downs. Currently that number sits at 7.91 and that has them sixth-worst in the league when it comes to that passing statistic. It’s very telling and especially since the league average is 6.67.
I think you can see based on the numbers above that first down plays is where the Steelers defense needs to improve the most during their final 6 games of the season. I will be monitoring this over the remainder of the season.