What is the line exactly that I’m so used to hearing around these parts? “Defense wins championships”? That is it, isn’t it? So then why aren’t we all happier about this season than we currently seem to be? Is the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offense worse than it was in 2008?
Let’s just make abundantly clear the fact that the Steelers currently rank second in the league in defensive points allowed. Through 10 games, the team has relinquished just 165 points in total, averaging 16.5 points per game. The only team that has allowed fewer points is the Jacksonville Jaguars, who have only allowed 141 points.
And if we are talking strictly the defensive performance, then there is a pretty big qualifier in there, given that Ben Roethlisberger has thrown two interceptions that were returned for touchdowns this season, so that is no knock against the defense. If you remove those 13 points—they missed a point-after try—then the defense has allowed 152 points this year, or 15.2 points per game.
The New England Patriots? They rank 13th, by the way, having allowed 203 points so far on the season, 20.3 points per game. The only other teams from the AFC in the top 10 aside from the Jaguars and Steelers are the Baltimore Ravens at three—who have shut out three bad teams—and the Chargers at eight.
It’s of course not just about points allowed—well, it is, but more nuance is useful. For example, the Steelers own the seventh-best time of possession mark this season (which, full disclosure, has really been a pain in the ass for me this year as the one responsible for the offensive charting).
A part of that equation is the fact that they have been one of the top five defenses in terms of getting off the field on third down, in spite of the fact that the offense has been very underwhelming in that category. They have also stopped 11 of 15 fourth-down attempts against them.
Opposing offenses are averaging just under 16 first downs per game, one of only three teams in the league to accomplish that, the other two being the Jaguars and the Carolina Panthers. The Patriots, in contrast, are allowing 22 per game with the eight-worst third-down defense.
The Steelers are one of six teams holding their opponents to fewer than five yards per play run. The Patriots are literally and comfortably the worst in this category, averaging 6.3 yards allowed per play, .3 yards more than anybody else.
Did I mention that they have the second-most sacks and interceptions, and have allowed the second-fewest passing touchdowns? Or that their run defense numbers have leveled off to something like the middle of the pack following a couple of ugly early-season games? Or that the Patriots are allowing a full five yards per rush, and 7.7 yards per pass? And have just 17 sacks?