Pro Football Focus Analyzes Steelers, League DL Play In 2015

Over the weekend, Dave Bryan brought you statistics from Pro Football Focus which showed that Big Ben faced the least amount of pressure from opposing defenses last season. Now it’s time to take a look at the other side.

And I’ll start with discussing how the defensive line performed when it comes to pressuring quarterbacks. As appreciative as fans are regarding the defensive play of Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt last year, statistics show the defensive line had their share of struggles, and perhaps the lack of depth along the line is to blame.

Regardless, let’s see what PFF found when assessing the Steelers.

To begin, it’s important to note that the website breaks these statistics up into two main defensive categories (4-3 and 3-4). It would be somewhat unfair to hold a 3-4 defensive line to the same standards as a 4-3 line and the stats for both types show the obvious disparity. Therefore, the following rankings compare Pittsburgh to the other 14 NFL teams that largely run a 3-4 scheme.


Category Total (NFL Rank) NFL Average
Pass Rush Snaps 950 (11th) 1002.3
Sacks 10 (9th) 11.9
Hurries 51 (9th) 53.8
Hits 11 (11th) 15.7
Total Pressures 72 (11th) 81.63


There is always some wiggle room when it comes to the accuracy of statistics, but PFF has shown to be reliable in the past, and their attention to detail is almost unparalleled. credits Tuitt, Heyward and Steve McLendon with combing for 14.5 sacks on the year. This would bump them to 4th on this list, but again, these stats vary especially when it comes to determining what is a hit etc. Regarding hits, hurries and pressures, it is clear these are determined generally from a subjective lens. But let’s humor these findings for conversation sake.

So by the looks of this chart, it appears the Steelers have some work to do if they want to get the most out of their improving defensive line. The first stat that jumps out for me is the pass rush snaps they took. It’s far less than most of the other teams, which could very well explain some of the shortcomings.

Still, though, there is definitely room for improvement in every category as evidenced above. The Steelers have largely relied on their pass rush to come from the linebacking corps, but with the emergence of Heyward and Tuitt, it’s hard to imagine they aren’t looking to shift some of that responsibility. And the two ends provided significant help in this field throughout the year.

Unfortunately, the lack of depth along the line proved to be costly. It was very rare see the Steelers defense on the field without the two ends, and that can be a problem; that’s why the line was a big focus heading into this year’s draft. They were able to add some help in the likes of Ricardo Mathews, and also brought in Johnny Maxey, Cashaud Lyons and Giorgio Newberry to help at end.

Added depth will be key to getting the most out of Tuitt and Heyward, because taking every snap is a lot to ask of any defensive end, especially one in a 3-4 scheme.

There were questions raised about the production at defensive tackle as well, and that’s why the team drafted Javon Hargrave in the 3rd round to secure a promising talent while providing some competition for Daniel McCullers. The Steelers are recognizing their needs along the line and seem to have addressed it to the fullest extent this offseason.

As we know, they will be facing some high profile offenses in 2016 and this line will be thoroughly tested. The good news is that they appear to be on an upward trend. And just imagine the damage that Tuitt and Heyward could do if they were a little more rested at key moments.

Keep a close eye on the backups heading into training camp, because their progress will likely influence the starters’ impact.

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