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Statistically, Steelers 2016 Pass Defense Has Been Alarmingly Bad

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

Year Cmp Att Cmp% Net Yds TD Int Sk Yds Rate ANY/A Int+Sk
1988 135 222 60.8 1775 12 7 10 78 92.4 7.33 17
2016 182 274 66.4 1984 8 3 8 28 93.2 7.12 11
2014 140 228 61.4 1616 10 4 10 74 91.4 6.87 14
2015 183 266 68.8 1938 11 5 19 105 97.4 6.78 24
1986 132 225 58.7 1473 15 5 19 131 93.6 6.34 24
2012 128 224 57.1 1278 11 3 12 69 85.5 5.78 15
2003 127 194 65.5 1273 11 7 13 76 89.5 5.69 20
1991 145 225 64.4 1420 11 6 19 119 89.5 5.61 25
2013 125 207 60.4 1267 5 4 10 49 78.9 5.47 14
1997 149 266 56.0 1745 12 10 20 116 77.3 5.37 30
1995 133 224 59.4 1490 10 9 17 116 79.6 5.33 26
1998 118 210 56.2 1365 8 7 19 93 76.6 5.28 26
1987 145 225 64.4 1597 14 15 6 46 79.2 5.20 21
2009 155 259 59.8 1501 9 5 21 154 82.1 5.20 26
2011 128 228 56.1 1203 8 2 17 114 81.0 5.20 19
1989 115 231 49.8 1475 6 8 14 71 65.7 5.04 22
2010 181 266 68.0 1702 6 10 20 115 79.1 4.80 30
2007 129 223 57.8 1254 7 6 19 127 75.3 4.64 25
2004 127 232 54.7 1355 7 8 20 114 69.8 4.50 28
2005 150 244 61.5 1483 5 9 22 150 72.7 4.43 31
1994 110 201 54.7 1214 7 9 21 132 68.5 4.27 30
1982 136 242 56.2 1536 7 12 30 235 68.4 4.18 42
2002 185 294 62.9 1743 7 13 20 127 70.5 4.13 33
1984 119 213 55.9 1387 9 14 17 120 64.8 4.07 31
1999 108 205 52.7 1147 6 8 20 134 65.5 4.03 28
2001 118 205 57.6 1086 7 7 27 167 72.7 3.93 34
2006 128 222 57.7 1291 10 12 22 134 69.4 3.90 34
2008 146 237 61.6 1151 6 6 25 197 75.0 3.82 31
2000 117 223 52.5 1240 5 11 15 90 57.6 3.55 26
1993 123 215 57.2 1238 9 14 17 106 62.6 3.40 31
1985 138 231 59.7 1166 7 10 24 198 68.5 3.36 34
1983 106 198 53.5 1352 7 18 31 242 54.1 2.98 49
1996 136 225 60.4 1205 6 13 24 146 62.3 2.97 37
1990 112 222 50.5 1114 4 11 19 116 52.6 2.90 30
1992 99 201 49.3 1171 5 15 10 71 46.1 2.82 25
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