2017 South Side Questions: Is The Secondary Legitimate?

The journey toward the Super Bowl is now well under way with the Pittsburgh Steelers back practicing at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, still informally referred to as the ‘South Side’ facility. With the regular season standing in their way on the path to a Lombardi, there will be questions for them to answer along the way.

We have asked and answered a lot of questions during the preseason and through training camp, but much of the answer-seeking ends in the regular season, and teams simply have to make do with what they have available to them. Still, there will always be questions for us.

You can rest assured that we have the questions, and we will be monitoring the developments in the regular season and beyond as they develop, looking for the answers as we evaluate the makeup of the Steelers on their way back to the Super Bowl, after reaching the AFC Championship game last season for the first time in more than half a decade.

Question: Is the secondary legitimate against the pass, or are they due to be exposed?

If it weren’t for the quarterback seemingly in the middle of a midlife crisis, I think that the question everybody would be asking right now is whether or not the Steelers’ passing defense is actually as legitimate as the numbers would suggest.

The Steelers are—incredibly—currently ranked first in the league in terms of passing yards allowed per game, averaging the surrender of just 139.6 yards through the air over the course of the first five games of the 2017 regular season.

Of course, the unfortunate and virtually inevitable flipside is the fact that they are near the bottom in terms of rushing defense. After Sunday’s game, they now rank 28th in terms of rushing yards allowed per game, with nearly as many passing yards allowed at 136.6.

The Steelers’ two losses have followed a similar pattern: a heavy dose of running, and just a dab of throwing. But it is important to point out that the passing defense is not just facing very few passing attempts. They are also giving up just 5.4 yards per reception, the lowest number in the league.

They have allowed just three touchdowns through the air over five games, combated by five interceptions. Their eight explosive plays allowed is the fewest in the league, and they are the only team that hasn’t given up one of 40 yards or more.

One thing that has helped significantly is a livelier pass rush, to be certain, but they have also been aided by mediocre to poor play from the quarterback position by the likes of DeShone Kizer, Case Keenum, and Joe Flacco.

And on deck are the Chiefs, led by Alex Smith having something of a renaissance season, with the highest quarterback rating in the league and playing, frankly, like he never has before. This is just the beginning of a tougher road ahead, on which the defensive backs will have to prove their mettle.

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