Remember way back in 2014 when Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin offered up this somewhat obvious, yet profound, quote following a rookie minicamp practice?
“Rush and coverage works together and it has since the beginning of time, and will [continue to work together]. You’ve got to apply pressure to the quarterback. It doesn’t matter how many people you do it with, you better use as many as required for consistent pressure to assure that the ball comes out in a timely manner,” Tomlin said.
Since then, Tomlin has continued to state how important it is that rush and coverage work together in order to slow down the passing game of an opposing offenses. So, how did the Steelers defense do last season when it came to having their rush and coverage work great together? Overall, probably not quite as bad as you might think and especially when you look at how Scott Kacsmar of Football Outsiders recently broke the stats down related to both rush and coverage working together by numbers rushed.
Kacsmar has now broken down the 2017 pass-rush stats of all 32 teams by number of players rushed and included in his results for each are the frequency rates, pressure rates, as well as the DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average calculates a team’s success based on the down-and-distance of each play during the season, then calculates how much more or less successful each team is compared to the league average.) A league rank is also given for each one of those categories.
When it comes to the Steelers 4-man rush in 2017, it was allegedly used 60.9% of the time and that resulted in pressure rate of 33.0%. The DVOA of the Steelers 4-man rush in 2017 was -5.4%, and that was the fourth-best in the NFL. It should be noted, however, that the frequency it was used was ranked 20th overall by FO and to add some perspective to that number, the Jacksonville Jaguars led the NFL in 2017 with a 4-man rush frequency rate of 83.7%. The Jaguars 4-man rush also produced an astonishing league-best DVOA of -26.7% in 2017. The NFL average frequency rate for 4-man rushes in 2017 was 65.8% with the average pressure rate being 30.3%.
When it comes to blitzes with five or more rushers in 2017, the Steelers had a 19th-best frequency rate of 22.5%. When used, the Steelers pressure rate was 51.6%, good for third-best in the NFL. Their DVOA, however, for rushes that featured five or more rushers was -4.2% in 2017, good for just a 10th-best ranking.
As for 3-man rushes in 2017, the Steelers frequency rate for those were 16.6%, which was the fourth-highest in the NFL. While those produced pressure 28.9% of the time, the Steelers 14.6% DVOA stat when sending three or less players after the opposing quarterback was worse than the league average number of 11.3%.
The main takeaway from Kacsmar’s recent stats and rankings is something most have known for quite a while and that’s that the Steelers defense needs to find a way to up their percentage of 4-man rushes still providing pressure rates of 33.0% and a DVOA of -5.4% or better. Additionally, the defense needs to improve quite a bit in the instances when less than four players are rushed.
It’s also worth reminding all of you that the Steelers defense sure seemed to inflate their pass-rushing stats in 2017 in their two games against the Cleveland Browns. In fact, 13 of the Steelers franchise-best 56 sacks in 2017 came in their two games against the Browns. Additionally, 7 other sacks came in the Steelers Week 16 game against the Houston Texans, a team that was without their top-two quarterbacks and featured a banged-up offensive line.