If you’ve watched the Pittsburgh Steelers first 7 games of the 2016 regular season, you don’t need stats to explain to you just how bad their pass defense is so far this year. With that said, I am going to show you some stats to prove to you that you aren’t just imagining things.
For starters, through the first 7 games of the 2016 regular season, the 2016 Steelers defense had registered just 8 total sacks and only 3 interceptions. Their 8 sacks have them tied for last in the league in that statistical category with the Kansas City Chiefs, who have only played 6 regular season games so far.
To make matters worse and to give you some perspective as to just how low those sack and interception totals are through 7 games, the Steelers total of the two (11) is the lowest the franchise has ever recorded through the first 7 games of any regular season dating back to 1982 when sacks became an official NFL stat, per the numbers kept by Pro Football Reference.
While total passing yards allowed is often not a great indicator as to how good or bad a defense is playing, so far this season the Steelers have allowed 2,012 such yards and that is the second-most amount allowed by the franchise dating back to 1982. If you want to rank them by net passing yards (total passing yards – sack yards), this year’s defense is the worst all-time when it comes to that statistical category dating back to 1982 through 7 regular season games.
Since becoming acquainted with the ANY/A (adjusted net yards per passing attempt) stat, I like to use it as a true measuring stick for team’s pass defenses. In the case of the 2016 Steelers, their current ANY/A of 7.12 is the second-highest in franchise history through the first 7 games of any regular season dating back to 1982. The only year their defensive ANY/A was higher than that through the first 7 games of a regular season was in 1988 (7.33).
That 1988 team that I just referenced finished their regular season with an ANY/A of 6.9 and they recorded just 19 sacks that year even though they did manage to register 20 interceptions. That team also allowed 3,941 net passing yards, which was the second-most given up in the league that year.
Now that have that statistical doom and gloom out of the way, you’re probably wondering if I have any hope that this year’s defense will improve any during their final 9 regular season games. In short, yes I do, but that’s only because they can’t get much worse. With that said, I wouldn’t expect a huge turnaround and history tends to agree with me if you look at past ANY/A numbers. Yes, they will likely get defensive end Cameron Heyward back from his hamstring injury after the bye, but with that said, he’s only one player.
The rest of the Steelers defense isn’t likely to go through many personnel changes the rest of the season barring any additional injuries. Their lack of any consistent pass rush is concerning through the team’s first seven regular season games of which Heyward played in four-and-a-half of them. If the defense can’t start getting sacks or consistent pressure there’s no reason to think we’ll see a huge increase in interceptions, either.
This 2016 Steelers team is powered by its offense and that’s it. If the offense puts up points in a game and especially early, the defense will likely play above average thanks to them having leads. We saw this firsthand in the win over the Chiefs a few weeks ago and that’s the game Heyward recorded his team-leading 3 sacks in.
When the Steelers offense sputters during a game, that’s when the team stands a very good chance of losing a game and we have now seen that happen three times so far this season and almost a fourth time several weeks ago against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Now, with all of that said, the Steelers still have a very good shot at winning their division this season as the Bengals and Baltimore Ravens are just average teams. Assuming they do wind up ultimately making the playoffs, the Steelers chances of going on to win the Super Bowl will depend totally on the play of their offense.
Like it or not, very good defenses along with above average offenses are what win championships in today’s NFL. Unfortunately for the Steelers this season, they only have one of those two things.
Should this year’s Steelers team (defense) wind up proving me wrong, I will gladly post a long apology for everyone to see. As I sit here right now, I’m not expecting I’ll have to do that.
Steelers Pass Defense Statistics Through First 7 Games (1982-2016)
Sorted by ANY/A Stats