If you look at pass defense rankings from the 2017 season you’ll notice that the Pittsburgh Steelers finished fifth overall in yards allowed per game and 10th overall in completion percentage allowed. Those numbers and rankings are useless, however, and are essentially antiquated thanks to more advanced stats such as DVOA. Those sorts of stats and rankings aside, how defenses ultimately can defend against deep passes often times makes a huge difference on a game by game basis.
Thanks to the play of the Steelers offense last season, the team was able to overcome their defense being unable to defend well against deep passes. As you can see in the table of data below, the Steelers defense played extremely poorly in 2017 against deep pass attempts that flew 20 or more yards in the air past the original line of scrimmage. In fact, only the Oakland Raiders defense allowed a higher quarterback rating than the Steelers defense in 2017 when it came to throws of 20 yards or more in the air.
If the 41.0 completion percentage wasn’t bad enough, the Steelers defense then proceeded to allow the deep pass catchers to gain a total of 238 yards after the catch was made and that accounted for nearly 25% of all receiving yards allowed on those 25 completions. While not shown in the table below, the average reception point on the field where these 25 completions were made was the Steelers 31.5 yard-line so the fact that 8 touchdowns were scored should add context as to where the real problem was with the defense.
If you haven’t figured it out by now, the Steelers defense was horrendous when it came to tackling the catch after long receptions.
What stands out about these rankings below is that 8 of the top 10 teams in lowest quarterback rating allowed on passes of 20 yards or longer made the playoffs.
The Steelers hope they have fixed their defense this past offseason with the additions of free agents Morgan Burnett and Jon Bostic in addition to the drafting of safety Terrell Edmunds in the first-round. Gone from last year’s defense are William Gay and Mike Mitchell in addition to Ryan Shazier, who will miss the 2018 season with a spinal injury.
2017 Defensive Passing Stats On Passes Of 20 Yards Or Longer