Steelers 2015 Final Defensive Charting Notes

Sorry for putting this off, Steelers’ Nation. Didn’t want to rush our final charting of the year and now that I’ve had a couple days after the Senior Bowl, I could sort through all the data. As you probably know, we chart the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense every game and compile the numbers every couple weeks. We track everything from yards allowed, to who played what snaps at what position, to how many players blitzed or who was the target in coverage. Tons of categories. So here is the results of the most interesting aspects of the data.

– In 16 regular season games, the Steelers’ defense was on the field for 1102 snaps. This is way up from last year’s 990 figure. If you’re curious about the playoff figures, the Steelers’ defense was on the field for a whopping 1247 snaps this year.

– Only 32.8% of those 1102 plays were designed runs/handoffs (kneeldowns were excluded).

– Breakdown of personnel grouping from most to least.

Nickel: 65.8% – 725 plays
3-4: 27.4% – 302 plays
Dime: 5.5% – 61 plays
Goal Line: 1.3% – 14 plays

In all, the Steelers’ defense spent 71.3% of the time in subpackage football during the regular season. That is up remarkably up from 2015’s figure of 49.4% when subpackage and base football were just about even in use. This year, subpackage is lapping the 3-4, making nickel the Steelers’ true “base” defense.

– That shouldn’t be a surprise cosndering the most common offensive personnel the Steelers encounterted was 11 (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR) seeing it 721 times, or 65.4%. They only saw 12, 21, or 22 personnel 291 times, 26.4%. That number is down from 41% in 2014.

– Opposing offenses were in Steelers’ territory only 37.2% of the time, down from 44% last year. That, granted without other context, is an improvement.

– Disappointing stat from last year. Opposing offenses converted 3rd and 1 on 19 of 27 chances this year, That’s a 70.4% conversion rate, way up from the 44% figure from last season.

– 3rd 10+ The Steelers’ 3rd and 10+ defense was slightly worse in 2015, allowing 22.8% conversion rate compared to 20.4% last year.  18 of 79 this year, 10 of 49 last year. Much larger sample size, obviously, too.

– Opposing offenses passed 274 times on first down. They ran 209 times. 56.7/43.3 split.

– Overall, the Steelers allowed 3.0 YPC in their base defense. They allowed 4.3 in their nickel defense. Would love to see how that latter number stacked up with the rest of the NFL. Anyone know where I can find that stat?

The former number of 3.0 is way down from last year though, a great sign. Steelers allowed 4.2 YPC out of base last year.

– The Steelers blitzed on exactly one-third of their opportunities this year. 242 of 746, 33.3%. That is up over five percent from their 28% mark a year ago under Dick LeBeau.

Keith Butler sent five or more rushers on 33.2%, 241 times. That is a nearly identical percentage to LeBeau last year who sent 5+ 34% of the time.

The difference? Butler sent four man blitzes slightly more than LeBeau, 9.9 to 7 percent, and five man blitzes a lot more, 84.8 to 70.4.

Bottom line: though they sent the same number of guys at about the same rate, Butler found much more creative ways to send that rush than LeBeau.

– Butler’s favorite blitz pairing? Lawrence Timmons and Ryan Shazier rushed 20 times. His favorite DB/LB pairing? Timmons and Mike Mitchell, who were sent in tandem ten times.

Let’s look at some of the position breakdowns now.

Defensive Line

Cam Heyward played 975 of 1102 snaps. That’s 88.5%. Not including end of game blowouts, he never missed more than four snaps in a row, something that happened only twice this year. He once played 139 snaps in a row from Week 8 to Week 10. It was a nine quarter span.

– That string of 139 snaps is more than Daniel McCullers played the entire season (104).

Cam Thomas finishes the season with 174 snaps. Only 45 after the bye week, an average of 7.5 per game. Down from 12.9 pre-bye.

– On all runs to the right side with Stephon Tuitt at LDE/LDT, offenses averaged 4.2 YPC. On all runs to the left with Heyward at LDE/LDT, offenses averaged 3.9 YPC.

– With McCullers on the field, offenses averaged 3.3 YPC, excluding one botched snap that resulted in a 15 yard loss. Even on runs just up the middle or off guard, it’s still above 3, 3.1 to be exact.

– Do the same with Steve McLendon and you get 2.8 YPC overall and on inside runs, the number falls to 2.2. Again, this helps dispel the narrative McLendon was bad against the run.


– Final OLB snap counts:

James Harrison: 605
Bud Dupree: 558
Arthur Moats: 555
Jarvis Jones: 454

– And one of my favorite stats to track throughout the year: percentage of rush opportunities dropped into coverage.

Jarvis Jones: 28.5%
James Harrison: 21.2%
Arthur Moats: 16.2%
Bud Dupree: 12.3%

It’s interesting the Steelers show a pretty clear tendency to drop their ROLB more than their left, even understanding the fact Dupree is going to come in low because he’s a rookie and they’re simplifying things a bit for him.

And woah boy, you could argue the team is dropping Jones that often because he’s a poor pass rusher, but I look at it more from the standpoint that it’s hard to get sacks when you’re dropping in coverage nearly 30% of the time.

– Ryan Shazier lined up at either outside linebacker spot 106 times. 79 of those were passes. He blitzed on 50 of those occasions which was a lot more than I thought he did. Felt like he dropped the majority of the time, far too predictable. The numbers prove me wrong here.

– Lawrence Timmons played in 816 consecutive snaps before missing his first one. From the week that started, Week 14 against the Cincinnati Bengals when the Steelers brought in their dime, taking Timmons off, he played only 83.2% of the time for the rest of the regular season.

Defensive Backs

– Some of my notable “target” stats I track, players where the DB clearly had a chance to make a play on the ball.

Will Allen: 6/16 124 yards, 3 TDs 1 INT
Robert Golden: 4/10 54 yards, 1 TD 1 INT
William Gay: 6/15 65 yards, 0 TD 3 INT
Mike Mitchell: 1/9 6 yards, 1 TD 2 INT
Brandon Boykin: 4/8 45 yards, 1 TD 0 INT
Ross Cockrell: 14/29 295 yards, 2 TD 3 INT
Antwon Blake: 14/29 313 yards, 2 TD 2 INT

Gay continues to be the closest thing to a lockdown corner the Steelers have. Statistically, Cockrell and Blake’s numbers are strikingly similar. Mitchell’s ability to hit broke up a lot of passes this year, leading to the ultra-low completion percentage against.

For the record, Cockrell has an extra INT and Mitchell with one fewer because Cockrell tipped and created one against the Bengals in Week 8. So he gets credit for it in our charting. Rare moment for that to happen but there it is.

– Will Allen was sent on a blitz, by himself or with someone else, on 33 plays. That tied for the lead with Mike Mitchell’s 33, both just ahead of William Gay’s 29.

– No Steelers’ defensive back was penalized more than four times this year. And only Ross Cockrell was called for pass interference more than once, being flagged only twice. This group played clean last season, with the exceptions of Cortez Allen and Ike Taylor. Allen, again, struggled his year, flagged twice in the 32 snaps he played all year long.

– Combine all holding, illegal contact, and pass interferences form the Steelers’ secondary this year and you get a grand total of 11, a very low number. Gotta give Carnell Lake for teaching that technique to his players.

Shamarko Thomas has played 22 snaps over the last two years. 20 this year. Only saw two snaps after the bye week in 2015.

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