Steelers Defensive Charting: Regular Season Results

Back to round out the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2017 season. Combing through our big chart we keep track of all season long (Matthew does the offense, I the defense). Final numbers on a lot of the things I know you guys are interested in. Let’s take a look under the hood.

This is out of 979 snaps.

– If you’re wondering, that snap count is still pretty low. Here’s how they’ve looked since 2014.

2014: 944
2015: 1102
2016: 1040
2017: 979

– How the Steelers lined up in those snaps.

3-4: 372 (38%)
Nickel: 318 (32.5%)
Dime: 222 (22.7%)
Big Nickel: 34 (3.5%)
Big Dime: 13 (1.3%)
Goal Line: 7 (.7%)
Amoeba: 4 (.4%)
Big 3-4: 3 (.3%)
2-2-7: 3 (.3%)
Big 4-3: 2 (.2%)
3-5: 1 (.1%)

I should define some of those “big” packages.

Big Nickel: 3-3-5
Big Dime: 3-2-6
Big 4-3: 4-3-3 (3 safeties)
Big 3-4: 3-4-3 (3 safeties)

To put a bow on it, here is what percentage of time the Steelers were in a base defense vs a sub-package defense. Goal line will be excluded since it doesn’t really fit into either.

Sub-package: 61.1%
Base: 38.8%

Let’s compare that to last year.


Sub-package: 71.3%
Base: 27.8%

So definitely an increase in base defense this season. And as you can tell, a ton more different personnel groupings from Keith Butler. Last year, there were only five different groupings, four snaps of a 3-5 the most “exotic” thing we saw. In 2017, there’s been 11. And who knows what he has store in the playoffs. Been fun to watch.

Last thing on groupings. We’ll break down their traditional 3-4 and their 3-4 over front.

3-4 regular: 294 (79%)
3-4 over: 78 (21%)

That number is way down from 2016, when he ran the over front more than 37%. Definitely didn’t have the success with that grouping this year and it was scrapped for several weeks of the season. Bad against Jacksonville and he didn’t bring it back until Week 10 vs the Colts.

– One number I thought would be on the rise this year that slowly continues to climb. Steelers staying in base vs “passing personnel” (11, 10, 01). 7.9% of the time. That’s up from 6.4% last year and 2.9% in 2015.

But because of those different groupings, the Steelers still had 3+ DL on the field quite a bit against those personnel. If we include all 3 DL groupings, that percentage jumps to 12%. So some big shifts there too, which I’m all for. Helps get Javon Hargrave out there on passing downs.

– Another fun stat. Butler’s blitzes. Remember, we define a blitz as anyone not considered to be lined up as an OLB or DL rushing as a blitz. Keith Butler defines it as 5+ rushers coming (in the Butler/LeBeau playbook, any 4 man rush, even with an ILB, corner, whatever is considered a “dog”). But we track both.

Blitz: 33.2%
5+ Rush: 19.5%

Let’s compare each from previous years. Working from 2017 to 2015.

Blitz: 33.2-39.7-33.3 (LeBeau blitzed 28% in 2014)
5+ Rush: 19.5-27.7-33.6

So numbers down across the board, which has been the team’s aim for well…years. Able to set a sack record with those low blitz numbers is a good thing, no question.

Butler sent three almost as often as he sent five, 16.6%. They allowed 6.1 yards per completion in those situations and 61.2% of their passes completed. They allowed four touchdowns, though only one of them came in the red zone. The others were 30+ yards – quarterback having so much time is one downside to the idea.

I know most people hate seeing it in the red zone but it’s again been effective. When dropping eight in the red zone, QBs are 1/7 with one touchdown and one sack.

Over the past two years, here are the QB’s stats when rushing three in the red zone.

9/24 (37.5%) 2 TDs 2 INTs 2 sacks

Not bad.

Let’s look at it position by position.

Defensive Line


Cam Heyward: 31
Stephon Tuitt: 30
Javon Hargrave: 12
Tyson Alualu: 8
L.T. Walton: 3.5

And the more important, snaps per pressure. Lower the number, the better.

Snaps Per Pressure

Tuitt: 11.4
Heyward: 14
Hargrave: 18.8
Walton: 22.9
Alualu: 29.4

So while Javon Hargrave didn’t have a lot of pressures this season, his pressure rate was solid. That’s way up from his rookie year figure of 26.4. Heyward and Tuitt both more than doubly bettered their rates too.

Hargrave still wasn’t used very often in sub-packages. 69 (nice) snaps in two DL fronts this season, or 12.4% of the total. Nine of those came in the finale and 12 came in Week 2, the first full game Tuitt missed.



T.J. Watt: 30
Bud Dupree: 28.5
Anthony Chickillo: 5
Arthur Moats: 2

And again, snaps per pressure.

Pressures Per Snap

Watt: 9.6
Dupree: 12.5
Moats: 14
Chickillo: 23.2

So while Watt and Dupree have close pressure stats, Watt’s per-snap basis is much better. 9.6 is better than anything any Steelers’ player has done this year or last. The top OLB last year was James Harrison, at 14.5.

One of my favorite stats to look at – drop %.

Drop %

Dupree: 24.7%
Chickillo: 27.5%
Watt: 37.3%
Moats: 40.4%

Again, we see the right side of the Steelers’ defense drop more than the left. But Watt’s 37% drop is really high, five points higher than what Harrison did in 2016.

One target stat for you. Other linebackers have a very small sample size – T.J. Watt: 1/8 56 yards 1 TD 1 INT

Vince Williams blitzed 52 times. He rushed another 26 times from the OLB spot.


Contested Target numbers for each player.

Artie Burns: 19/44 329 yards, 4 TDs 2 INTs
Sean Davis: 17/28 318 yards, 2 TDs 4 INTs
Mike Hilton: 9/20 82 yards, 0 TDs 1 INT
Joe Haden: 4/18 77 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT
Coty Sensabaugh: 8/15 194 yards, 4 TD 1 INT
Mike Mitchell: 5/8 143 yards, 1 TD
William Gay: 3/6 26 yards, 1 TD
Cam Sutton: 3/5 17 yards, 1 TD
Robert Golden: 1/2 42 yards
JJ Wilcox: 0/1 0 yards, 1 INT

Clearly, teams went after Burns, even knowing Haden missed a month of the season. Low completion percentage but burned him on some big plays. Hilton didn’t allow big plays this year and has a low completion rate. Sensabaugh’s struggles are evident.

Hilton blitzed 76 times. He was used in eight different combinations, though the most common one was him blitzing alone from the slot, which he did 34 times.

An outside corner blitzed 12 times this year, a new wrinkle to Butler’s pressure package. The nickel corner/strong safety combo was popular throughout the year too. That was done 18 times.

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