2016 Steelers’ Final Defensive Charting Notes

We’re going through our final breakdown of our Pittsburgh Steelers’ defensive charting. It is, frankly, a slog to go through but it provides with some of our most valuable data throughout the season.

If you want to know any info that isn’t included here, let us know in the comments and we’ll try to help you out.

– As always, we are going to tailor these stats to the regular season only, not playoffs, to keep things consistent and comparable to the past.

In the regular season, the Steelers’ defense was on the field for 1040 snaps. That is slightly down from last year’s 1102 but up from 2014’s 944.

If you are curious, since the snaps still are going to wear down the players, include the playoffs and you have 1234 snaps. That’s still less than last year, despite one game, when they were on the field for 1247 snaps.

– Here is how the Steelers lined up in those 1040 snaps.

3-4 base: 294 (28.3%)
3-5: 4 (.4%)
Nickel: 675 (64.9%)
Dime: 58 (5.6%)
Goal line: 9 (.9%)

Let’s compare that to last year since we are building up a fancy database for such things.

Nickel: 65.8% – (2016: 64.9%)
3-4: 27.4% – (28.3%)
Dime: 5.5% – (5.6%)
Goal Line: 1.3% – (.9%)

So to sum up: nickel saw a small drop, 3-4 base a slight increase and everything else too relevant and small sampled to care about. And really, the nickel/3-4 relationship is the same as last year. That percentage point change is well within the “margin of error” you could call it.

Reasonable to assume in a given season, like 2017, the Steelers will be in their base defense around 28% of the time. So, not much.

Funny enough that dime was used about the same as last year. Inverse of last year; in 2016, the Steleers started with dime packages and scrapped them by year’s end. In 2015, they started without, ended with some.

Of course, that means the goal was to play dime this year and for whatever reason, the youth of the secondary, lack of talent, and general ineffectiveness, Keith Butler scrapped it. Will it be back for 2017? An interesting question.

As a reminder, this is all a stark contrast to where the defense was at two years ago. In 2014, the Steelers used their 3-4 over 50% of the time and ran it more often than nickel. That number got halved in 2015 and as you can tell, remained about the same in 2016.

You can blame the drastic shift on the influence and desire of 11 personnel by NFL offenses. In 2016, Steelers’ opponents were in 11 personnel for 710 plays, or 68.3% of the time. That is up from 65.4% in 2015.

One sorta interesting thing to watch is the Steelers desire to stay in base personnel vs pass heavy sets (11, 10, 01). There was a small but noticeable increase from 2015 to 2016.

In 2015, they did it just 2.6%. Last year, that number went up to 6.4,

My theory, something I’ll expand on more in the offseason I’m sure, is that in order to get Javon Hargrave the playtime to support his talent, you’ll see the Steelers stay in base more often against 11 personnel and roll down Sean Davis to the slot. Also helps boost the run defense.

– Of the base defense numbers, 109 snaps were the team’s stunt 3-4 with the over front, the nose tackle cocked, and the strongside linebacker moved off ball. Big increase from last year.

– One of the big numbers I know you (and I) are interested in. Butler’s overall blitz figure. Here it is.

By season’s end, he wound up blitzing 39.7% of the time. By this definition, any time someone rushed who wasn’t expected.

That is way up from last year’s total mark of 33.3% and a massive increase from Dick LeBeau’s 28% blitz mark in his final season.

By the Steelers’ standards, in 5+ man rushes, Butler blitzed 27.7%. That is significantly LOWER than Butler’s 33.6% mark a year ago, a realization of what we already knew – the Steelers attempted to get pressure with a four man rush this year to, let’s say mixed, success.

That five man rush was successful and arguably not used enough. When he rushed 5+, opposing QBs completed just 58.7% of his throws, sacked 20 times, and threw 8 TDs to 4 INTs.

Against four man rushes, QBs completed 63.2% of passes, sacked 18 times (on many more attempts), and threw 7 TDs to 7 INTs, the latter the only positive stat here.

– I know most of you don’t like it but rushing three in the red zone works. Butler did that 18 times this season with QBs completing just eight of those throws (44.4%), for one touchdown, two picks, and a sack.

The only touchdown they allowed came on the final play of the game against the Kansas City Chiefs, a meaningless score in a blowout victory. It works.

Let’s break things down by position.

Defensive Line

– When he was healthy, Stephon Tuitt played on 761 of 832 snaps. That’s a crazy 91.5%. Still haven’t gotten that number down to my liking.

Tuitt’s usage evolved mightily this year, especially when Cam Heyward went down, lining up all over the Steelers’ defense. We have him down for nine different alignments/usages, including one snap at LOLB.

– So did Hargrave’s snap count. Even leaving in some of the mid-game snaps he missed because of injury, but excluding his absence in Week 14, he played about 66% of the snaps following the Dallas Cowboys’ game.

– Became pretty clear that L.T. Walton supplanted Ricardo Mathews as the base end the last quarter of the season. From Week 12 on, Walton played 83 base snaps to Mathews’ 52.

Same time span, Mathews had 102 snaps in sub-package. So it wasn’t just because of Mathews’ ankle injury he hobbled around on late.

– Defensive linemen pressures (total):

Stephon Tuitt: 20
Javon Hargrave: 11
Cam Heyward: 6.5
Daniel McCullers: 5
Ricardo Mathews: 4.5
L.T. Walton: .5
Johnny Maxey: 0

And the more important snaps per pressure:

McCullers: 17.8
Tuitt: 24.7
Hargrave: 26.4
Heyward: 36.9
Mathews: 43.1
Walton: 308


One of my favorite stats, coverage drop %.

James Harrison: 32.4%
Jarvis Jones: 28%
Bud Dupree: 27.3%
Arthur Moats: 21.5%
Anthony Chickillo: 21.4%

Total pressures from all the linebackers, inside and out.

James Harrison: 18
Ryan Shazier: 13
Lawrence Timmons: 10.5
Arthur Moats: 9.5
Jarvis Jones: 9
Anthony Chickillo: 6.5
Bud Dupree: 5
Vince Willliams: 3.5
LJ Fort: 1

Same thing. Snaps per pressure.

James Harrison: 14.5
Arthur Moats: 21.5
Jarvis Jones: 25.1
Bud Dupree: 28.8
Anthony Chickillo: 24.9

Target/coverage stats.

Lawrence Timmons: 7/13 95 yards 0 TDs 2 INTs
Ryan Shazier: 2/11 29 yards 0 TDs 3 INTs

Defensive Backs

Target stats, the most important ones we’ll look at.

William Gay: 9/17 130 yards 1 TD 1 INT
Artie Burns: 13/35 256 yards 3 TDs 3 INTs
Ross Cockrell: 12/32 175 yards 1 TD 0 INT
Mike Mitchell: 3/14 44 yards 0 TDs 1 INT
Sean Davis: 4/10 52 yards 1 TD 1 INT

And secondary penalties

Burns: 9
Cockrell: 6
Mitchell: 5
Gay: 3
Davis: 2

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