2016 South Side Questions: When Will Bending Become Breaking?

The regular season is here, and the Pittsburgh Steelers are taking their practices at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, formerly known and still referred to as the ‘South Side’ facility of Heinz Field. While the real work is now upon us, there is plenty left to be done.

And there are plenty of questions left unanswered as well. The offseason is just really the beginning phase of the answer-seeking process, which is lasts all the way through the Super Bowl for teams fortunate enough to reach that far.

You can rest assured that we have the questions, and we will be monitoring the developments in the regular season and beyond looking for the answers as we look to evaluate the makeup of the Steelers as they wade through a regular season in which they are, at least supposed to be, among the favorites to win the Super Bowl.

Question: How much further can the Steelers defense bend before it starts breaking?

In many ways, the Steelers’ defense is off to a remarkable start. In spite of the fact that, as of the time of this writing, they rank 31st in the league in allowing 347.5 yards through the air per game (but only 22nd overall because they rank second with 50.5 rushing yards allowed), they have only surrendered 32 total points in two games.

Their 16 points allowed per game, again, as of this writing, stands as the seventh-best mark in the league, and, like last season, while they do not fare well in terms of limiting an opposing offense’s yardage, they have held the scores down by being successfully situationally throughout the game.

Just yesterday, they allowed one of 2015’s most potent and explosive offenses to convert just four of 16 third-down opportunities and averaged a relatively low 5.6 yards per play. The Bengals were shut out in three trips into the red zone, and went without a touchdown in their one goal-to-go opportunity.

Last week, against Washington, the defense gave up seven yards per play for 384 total yards, but allowed only three of 10 third-down opportunities to be converted, and were successfully in holding three-of-four and one-of-two red-zone and goal-to-go opportunities to be converted, respectively.

Through two games, they have faced seven trips into their red zone, and three goal-to-go situations, and they have only given up one of each.

But how much longer can the defense sustain this situational success before the sheer amount of opportunities to score results in said scores following closely behind? The Steelers have only allowed two touchdowns through two games, but have given up eight total scores, which could translate to 56 points instead of 32.

Part of their success so far in specific situations is intangible, unquantifiable, and not repeatable. Some of it was also luck, as in the C.J. Uzomah call yesterday, wherein he was ruled pushed out of bounds by Robert Golden when the accompanying image clearly shows his shin down inbounds. It is hard to imagine them continuing to be so susceptible up to the 20-yard line before they buckle down, especially if the pass-rush does not improve.

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