While the Pittsburgh Steelers may have suddenly taken a dip with respect to their ability to convert on third and short—successfully doing so on just two of seven occasions over the course of the past two games—one defensive fact that has seemingly been overlooked throughout the season is that their defense has been consistently very good in getting off the field on third down generally.
In fact, they have the sixth-best third-down conversion percentage against in the league, with three through about 10 all lumped pretty closely together. The defense has allowed the opposition to convert for a new set of downs just 29 times on 86 tries for a 34-percent conversion percentage.
What’s more, no team in the league has seen their opponents try to convert on fourth down more frequently than has Pittsburgh, and they have more than held their own in that critical situation as well. Only two teams—themselves and Denver—have seen 11 attempts on fourth down, and each of them have allowed only three to be converted. The Broncos are also the top third-down defense.
Where does this all stand relative to tonight’s opponents, the Lions? Well…pretty favorably, if you’re talking about their offense versus the Steelers’ defense. The truth is that they have been pretty stingy defensively as well, which I talked about a bit earlier today.
But while they have been better than Pittsburgh on third down, they have still been decidedly average, converting on 35 of 88 opportunities, a 40-percent conversion percentage, which ranks them right in the middle of the pack, league-wide. They have also failed on all four of their fourth-down attempts.
We are going to see tonight a pair of offenses who have struggled to move the ball offensively on possession downs, yet who both have been above average in stopping opposing offenses from doing so. That, to me, sounds like a recipe for a lot of punts—or a lot of explosive plays that avoid third down altogether.
But before we move on a little further, let’s zoom in some more, focusing on the Lions’ offense and the Steelers’ defense specifically on third and short.
Detroit has seen 22 third-and-short opportunities over the course of their first six games. They have converted just 10 of them for a 46-percent success rate, which, from short-yardage, is not all that impressive.
Matthew Stafford in those situations has completed nine of 16 passes for 83 yards and taken one sack, resulting in seven of their 10 first downs. The other three have come on five rushing attempts.
On the flip side, the Steelers defense has faced third and short situations 19 times over seven games…and that has not been pretty, allowing 12 to be converted, or 63 percent. Three through the air, and nine on the ground.
So what exactly do we learn from this? Contrary to last season, the Steelers defensively are excelling in getting off the field when they have gotten opponents in third-and-long situations. That’s good. But there is a lot of work to do on third and short.