Due to the way they played defense all season, none of us should be shocked that the Denver Broncos won the Super Bowl this year. As far as defensive stats go, while the Broncos did lead the league this past regular season in sacks, they also led in a much more important category and that’s pressure rate.
Thanks to some final numbers being released this week on Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight, we now can see that the Broncos defense registered a 34.4% pressure rate over the course of the regular season and the playoffs. On their way to achieving that number, Broncos defensive coordinator Wade Phillips had his unit blitz 39.5% of the time.
When it comes to the Pittsburgh Steelers defense in 2015, while their 48 sacks during the regular season wound up being third-best in the league, their overall pressure rate of 25.5% wound up being the seventh-worst in the league.
Now, while we don’t know how many of the Broncos 52 regular season sacks came on plays that they blitzed on, we do have a good idea what that number was for the Steelers thanks to the defensive charting that Alex Kozora did throughout the year. According to his numbers, 30 of the Steelers 48 total sacks (62.5%) came on plays in which they blitzed. Additionally, of the Steelers remaining 18 sacks that they had during the regular season that they registered without blitzing, 5 of them came on third downs when the opposing offense needed 10 or more tyards.
Now, I’m not going to pretend that the Broncos didn’t have a much better secondary than the Steelers had last season as that certainly helped their cause. However, and more importantly in my opinion, they had a much better front seven as a whole which included premier outside linebackers Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware, who combined to have 18.5 sacks in the regular season alone. Also, it doesn’t end there on the edge for Broncos, either, as backup outside linebackers Shaquil Barrett, Shane Ray and Lerentee McCray all combined to have 10 regular season sacks.
When you look at the Steelers 2015 outside linebacker group, James Harrison, Jarvis Jones, Arthur Moats and Bud Dupree combined to have 15 total sacks and 4 of those came in the fourth quarter blowout win against the Indianapolis Colts. That’s simply not enough production from that position group.
During his end of the season talk with the media, Steelers team president Art Rooney II made it clear that the team’s offseason priority will be improving the pass defense. While several will want to point to him meaning that only the play in the secondary needs to improve, that’s certainly not the only area as it’s clear the Steelers defense needs to do a better job of applying more consistent pressure. In other words, merely adding a “lock-down” cornerback via free agency or the draft simply won’t be enough in 2016 for the Steelers to win a championship.
2015 Team Pass Rushing Stats courtesy of http://fivethirtyeight.com/
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