There are certainly plenty of ways in which the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense can be criticized for their performance over the course of the first five games of the 2016 season. As it currently stands, they are giving up, on average, 302 yards through the air per game, which, as of the time of this writing, ranks 29th in the league, for example.
Their 379 yards allowed per game ranks 25th in the league. Their three interceptions on the season is a total tied for just 19th in the league. Their mere eight sacks—seven of which have come just in the last two games—ranks near the bottom of the league.
But where they have done an excellent job in four of the five games this season, anyway, has been where it matters most: on the scoreboard. The Steelers are allowing just 18.6 points per game after their 31-13 victory on Sunday, a total that included a 34-point stomping just a few weeks ago, from which they have recovered nicely.
As of the time of this writing, again, that statistical figure currently ranks ninth in the league. They are one of only nine teams who are averaging less than 20 points per game on the defensive side of the ball. And they are within 1.2 points—six actual points in total—of the fifth-best defensive points allowed mark in the league.
With all of the extraneous statistics that gets passed around all the time, it’s sometimes easy to lose sight of the fact that the only thing that really matters at the end of the day is how many more points the team scores than the other team, and the defense has done their part in holding down the opposing scoring.
Setting aside the Eagles game as an outlier, the Steelers have not allowed an opponent this season to score more than 16 points in a game, and the reality is that a lot of the damage on the scoreboard that they have been dealt this year has come in the fourth quarter, often when the result on the scoreboard has already been determined
Washington had just nine points entering the fourth quarter when they were already trailing by 15 points before they finally added a touchdown. The following week, the Steelers again held a 24-9 lead before the Bengals finally scored a touchdown.
Against the Chiefs last week, Kansas City had not even scored until the fourth quarter, and by then Pittsburgh had already scored 36 points. The Chiefs got two late touchdowns, bringing the total of touchdowns allowed in the fourth quarter with at least a 15-point lead to four, for 28 points, which is a little over 30 percent of the total amount of points they’ve allowed.
On Sunday, the defense shut out the Jets in the second half in spite of the fact that their 13 first-half points was the most they have allowed this year. Other than in the Eagles game, the defense has stepped up when it mattered most this year and kept the scoreboard down.