Have you been surprised by how well the Pittsburgh Steelers defense has played over the course of the last three weeks, and especially against the pass? I will honestly tell you that I have. Being as I have been very critical of the Steelers pass defense for most of the season, it’s only fair that I praise what they have accomplished over the course of their last three games.
As many of you should know by now, I really like to measure a team’s pass defense by closely monitoring their ANY/A (adjusted net yards per passing attempt) stats. The lower the stat the better and any time a defense holds an opposing offense under 4.0 it should be considered a great accomplishment. With that noted, the Steelers defense registered an ANY/A of 3.73 or lower in each of their last three games. Below is a look at the passing stats from those three games.
While definitely an impressive three-game performance, several will chalk it up to the quality of the opposing offense the Steelers defense faced and that’s certainly understandable. After all, they played two teams who were forced to start inexperienced quarterbacks. I get it, I really do, but with that said, holding those three teams to a defensive ANY/A of 3.73 or less in three straight games is still a huge accomplishment in the NFL.
According to my research, only 27 different times dating back to 1982 has a Steelers defense registered an ANY/A of 3.73 or less in three straight games in one season. The 2008 Steelers defense accomplished that feat three times from games 10 to 14. As good as the Steelers 2005 defense was, not once did they accomplish that feat. The last time a Steelers defense accomplished such a feat in three straight games was during the 2011 season.
So, has any other team been able to register a defensive ANY/A of 3.73 or less in three straight games so far this season? According to my research, no, the Steelers are the only team to accomplish said feat with four weeks remaining in the 2016 regular season. In fact, in the 192 games played so far this season a defense has registered an ANY/A of 3.73 or less 50 times.
Is my 3.73 defensive ANY/A number one chosen to fit a particular narrative related to the Steelers? Absolutely it is, but even so, I think you can see the relevance when it comes to that particular number nonetheless.
Now, I’m not going to pretend like this 2016 Steelers pass defense is suddenly fixed based on what has happened over the course of the last three weeks as Lord knows they’ve faced some questionable competition in two of their last three games. The unit is, however, starting to get sacks and interceptions in addition to continuing to do a solid job inside the red zone. Will that continue? We’ll see.
Let me leave you with this. After Week 8 of the NFL regular season concluded, the Steelers had a defensive ANY/A of 7.12, which was the ninth-highest in the league. Entering Week 13, the Steelers defensive ANY/A is 6.19 and that’s the eleventh-lowest in the NFL. If that unit can continue to lower that number over the course of their final four regular season games and ultimately make the playoffs in the process, perhaps this 2016 Steelers team can make a legitimate run at a seventh Lombardi Trophy after all.
Read more about the ANY/A stat here: http://www.pro-football-reference.com/about/glossary.htm