Welcome to Bizarro World, in which the Pittsburgh Steelers actually have good cornerbacks. At least, that is what a statistic that Pro Football Focus posted yesterday would have you believe. Now, bear with me before you fly into a rage and start going on a rant about how the notion that the Steelers have good cornerbacks is just further proof that Pro Football Focus is a terrible outlet full of terrible people. Let’s look at the statistic to start with.
The specific statistic referenced is yards allowed per coverage snap during the 2016 season. To make it clear, this refers to the number of receiving yards that the Steelers’ cornerbacks gave up as a group divided by the number of snaps that all of them played, combined.
The stingiest cornerback corps in the league last year pic.twitter.com/q1riWQ9Tdy
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) July 4, 2017
PFF posted a graphic detailing the three groups of cornerbacks who faired the best in the league in this metric. The Broncos were, to nobody’s surprise, far and away the best, allowing just .83 yards per snap in coverage. So if all of their cornerbacks combined played 1000 snaps, to make it simple, they would have surrendered 830 yards as a group.
The second-most successful team was rather distant, coming in at .99 yards allowed per snap in coverage, and that would be the Bengals. But the Steelers were directly behind them, posting a 1.00 even figure for yards allowed per snap in coverage.
So what this statistic tells us at a very bare minimum is that, on a per-snap basis, the Steelers’ cornerbacks were among the most successful groups in the league in terms of limiting yardage. This could come in the form both of limiting the number of successful receptions as well as limiting the gains after receptions are made.
While the defense as a unit did finish somewhat in the middle of the pack—though somewhere toward the top of the middle—in terms of passing yards allowed, this statistic does jive with some of the observations that we have made previously about how their opponents picked up yards against them.
The straight fact of the matter is that the Steelers were among the worst defenses in the league when it came to defending the pass against running backs and tight ends, with the former being the worse culprit. They surrendered 787 receiving yards to running backs, fourth-worst in the league, and 956 yards to tight ends, which was 11th, but still significantly poor.
Now, generally speaking, cornerbacks do not spend much of their time covering running backs and tight ends. This means that the Steelers had bigger issues with their linebackers and safeties in coverage that they did, specifically, with their cornerbacks.
With that in mind, it is not completely absurd to reckon with the notion that their cornerback group was among the more efficient in the league in terms of giving up yardage in coverage. Because defenses were finding so much success beating their other defenders in coverage anyway. So there’s your rain on the cornerback parade.