Steelers’ 2016 Season And The Tangible Value Of Sacks

Derrik Klassen of recently conducted an interesting study on the tangible value of sacks from last season as it relates to both offense and defense and the effects of them ultimately killing drives.

As far the Pittsburgh Steelers offense last season in Klassen’s study, that side of the football had a drive extension conversion rate of 14.29% after suffering a sack. In short, the Steelers offense only extended drives just 3 times after their quarterback was sacked 21 times in total. That conversion rate wound up being under the league average of 16.01%. While not awful, you can see there’s definitely room for improvement in that statistical category in 2017. Obviously, the offense only suffering 21 sacks in total is a number that can be lived with, but with that said, if it can be lowered in 2017, all the better.

As far as the Steelers defense last season when it came to their ability to stop offensive drives as a result of sacks, that side of the football allowed a conversion rate of 21.05%, according Klassen. In short, after their 38 total sacks, 8 times they proceeded to let the opposing offense move the chains again. According to Klassen’s research, the Steelers defense was one of eight teams marked 5% below the league average in that statistic and that left him a bit perplexed it appears.

Minnesota and Pittsburgh don’t make much sense as poor defensive stoppers. Minnesota fell off as a unit as the season went on, but they still played fairly well all year and have Pro Bowl talent at every position. How they failed to be even average defensive stoppers after getting sacks is tough to pin down. Pittsburgh, while a little less talented, primarily on the back end, still had an overall good defensive unit that generated 38 sacks, tied for ninth-best in the league. With a good front seven and a functional secondary, the Steelers, in theory, are a better defensive stopping team than the numbers indicate.

I wanted to dig a little bit deeper into Klassen’s numbers and my gamebook research also shows that the Steelers defense gave up eight conversions following their 38 regular-season sacks.

Below is the play-by-play description of the plays that resulted in conversions during a drive following a sack by the Steelers defense:

Chiefs3-12-KC 44 (6:25) (Shotgun) A.Smith pass short left to C.Conley ran ob at PIT 43 for 13 yards.

Browns3-12-CLV 20 (1:03) (No Huddle, Shotgun) C.Kessler pass incomplete short right to D.Johnson Jr. [L.Timmons]. PENALTY on PIT-A.Burns, Illegal Use of Hands, 5 yards, enforced at CLV 20 – No Play.

Browns4-9-PIT 43 (13:30) (No Huddle, Shotgun) J.McCown pass short middle to G.Barnidge to PIT 34 for 9 yards (L.Timmons). 

Browns3-17-CLV 31 (7:28) (Shotgun) J.McCown pass short left to G.Barnidge to CLV 36 for 5 yards (R.Shazier). PENALTY on PIT-L.Timmons, Illegal Use of Hands, 5 yards, enforced at CLV 31 – No Play

Colts3-15-IND 18 (6:15) (Shotgun) S.Tolzien pass deep right to P.Dorsett to IND 34 for 16 yards (R.Cockrell).

Buffalo3-13-BUF 11 (4:39) (Shotgun) T.Taylor pass short left intended for R.Woods INTERCEPTED by W.Gay at BUF 25. W.Gay for 25 yards, TOUCHDOWN NULLIFIED by Penalty. Pass deflected off R.Woods before INT. PENALTY on PIT-A.Burns, Defensive Holding, 5 yards, enforced at BUF 11 – No Play

Buffalo3-9-BUF 19 (8:29) (Shotgun) T.Taylor pass short right to L.McCoy to PIT 40 for 41 yards (S.Davis). Dump pass, caught at BUF 22.

Browns2-14-CLV 28 (4:26) (Shotgun) I.Crowell up the middle to PIT 5 for 67 yards (S.Davis, A.Burns)

I think what sticks out the most in the above data is the fact that four of the eight offensive conversions that I found came against the Browns offense with three of those coming in the first of two meetings between the two teams. Additionally, three of the eight conversions the Steelers defense allowed following a sack were a result of penalties, one on linebacker Lawrence Timmons and two others on cornerback Artie Burns. As you can see above, one of those two penalties on Burns, a defensive holding call, negated not only an interception by cornerback William Gay, but a defensive touchdown as well.

When you dig deeper into the play-by-play, I think it’s a little easier to see why Klassen was so perplexed about the Steelers defense allowing a 21.05% conversion rate last season following sacks.

By the way, the Steelers defense went on to register 8 sacks during their three playoff games and all of those effectively killed the opposing offenses’ drive.

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