As Mark Twain famously said, statistics can be used to be leaned on, failing to provide appropriate context. For Mike Tomlin, that applies to the Pittsburgh Steelers’ pass defense, which ranked 30th in 2015. To him, there are several variables that factor into that result, he told Bob Labriola last week on Steelers’ Nation Radio.
“We were 30th in the league in pass defense. I’m not going to overreact to that. We wanted to create negativity. We wanted to smash the run. We wanted to sack the quarterback. We wanted to get turnovers. That was down our list of priorities if we’re talking pure pass defense yardage. I acknowledge we were 30th but the way we chose to play football had something to do with that.”
It should be well understood the Steelers’ scheme lends itself to allowing easy chunks of yardage. Their desire to play 8 man fronts to stuff the run, their overarching Cover 3 shell allowing easy completions underneath.
Tomlin’s view is a different perspective than the one Art Rooney II recently offered, noting the Steelers’ pass defense has to get better. Ir’s understandable for those viewpoints to be different though; Tomlin with the in-depth knowledge of the situation that surrounds him while Rooney is looking at a more overall picture, as most owners do.
It’s important to understand the relativity of the number. While they gave up the 30th most yards, the Steelers were also thrown at 625 times, the 6th most in the league and only 25 attempts away from the Carolina Panthers’ league-high mark. And the team ranked 18th in yards per attempt, a less than ideal number but one that is more respectable and paints a clearer picture.
The Steelers’ 17 interceptions this season ranked tied for 6th in the league and was the team’s best mark since they had 21 in 2010. That would indicate better pass defense and is part of the context Tomlin stressed in his response.
We’ve written about it before. Though many Steelers’ fans clamor for a first round pick at cornerback, it seems unlikely. Ross Cockrell is officially back, not that he was ever in danger of leaving as an ERFA, and William Gay and Antwon Blake almost assuredly returning, it stands to reason the team will be comfortable with their group. Senquez Golson should be treated as a draft pick in itself, something the team will likely rationalize.
Strong safety, on the other hand, is a position the team could look at, if they want to invest in the secondary for reasons we’ve touched on before and will go in-depth in over the offseason.
Robert Golden is the only viable strong safety candidate and of course, is a free agent. Boise State’s Darian Thompson makes a lot of sense to be taken 25th by the Steelers though we are still so far out from the draft. But an early bird view of potential picks for the team should include him on the list, along with the likes of Reggie Ragland, Hunter Henry, and Noah Spence.