One of the common themes of complaints that we have heard throughout the years about the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense under former defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, and now under his protégé and successor, Keith Butler, has been that they too often spend their time dropping their rushers into coverage, which some feel is a waste of opportunity.
I don’t know if they plan to change that any time soon, but we do know that it was still ever-present just last season, and Pro Football Focus has the statistics. According to their charting, no team in the league last season spent more time dropping pass-rushing players in their front seven into coverage than the Steelers did, and really only one other team was particularly close.
These teams dropped their interior and edge defenders into coverage more than anyone else. pic.twitter.com/Qrhjz0YsTA
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) June 16, 2017
Based on a graphic that their Twitter account recently shared a couple of days ago, the team spent only 85.8 percent of its time on defense in which no member of the outside linebackers or defensive line dropped into coverage. To reverse the numbers, that means that over 14 percent of the time, they had at least one member of their pass rushers not rushing the passer—or playing the run.
The one team that was in the ballpark was actually the New England Patriots, which will be no doubt an interesting bit of information for those who have an issue with the amount that the Steelers drop their outside linebackers, for example. Their defense spent 12.6 percent of the time with a member of the defensive line or edge defenders dropping into coverage rather than staying in the box.
In case you were interested and can’t look at pictures for some reason, the 49ers ranked third on the list, but did not even spend 10 percent of its snaps with edge rushers or defensive linemen falling back into coverage.
According to Alex Kozora’s defensive charting notes to round out the regular season, he had James Harrison dropping into coverage (in passing situations only) 32.4 percent of the time. Jarvis Jones and Bud Dupree also did so for over 25 percent of their passing snaps, but Arthur Moats and Anthony Chickillo were both closer to 20 percent.
To be quite honest, I’m not entirely sure if I’m reading PFF’s statistic accurately, as it is worded somewhat ambiguously. I don’t know if the percentage listed is the total number of snaps in which no member of the standard rush dropped into coverage, or if it is a percentage of the sum of all snaps from pass-rushers in rushing situations in which they rushed the passer.
In whatever way it is interpreted, the obvious takeaway is that the Steelers in comparison to the rest of the league spend an inordinate amount of time having their pass-rushers do things other than rush the passer, which is a built-in feature of LeBeau’s zone-blitz 3-4 defense.