If you were interested in an illustration of just how bonkers offensive football has become this season, consider this: there are currently five quarterbacks who are on pace to record a 5000-yard passing season in 2018 (Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger of course being among them).
That has only been done nine times before in NFL history, and five of those nine seasons were from Drew Brees. The New Orleans Saints quarterback isn’t even one of the five who are currently on that pace this year. All five on pace to do it have never done it before: Roethlisberger, Matt Ryan, Aaron Rodgers, Kirk Cousins, and Patrick Mahomes.
If you want another standard by which to measure just how much the offense has dominated this year, weigh this into consideration: only five teams in the NFL are currently averaging an allowance of fewer than five yards per play on first down.
That means that 27 of the league’s 32 teams, generally speaking, are giving up a successful play to the opposing offense the majority of the time. Last season, nine teams allowed fewer than five yards per first-down play. The year before that, it was eight, and the feat was matched the two years before that as well. 13 did it in 2013, but only four did in 2012.
The common theme between 2012 and this year was the fact that the league was establishing some major new changes in how the defense was to be officiated. It happened mid-season, on the fly, in 2012, but the changes this year have been even more significant.
On the bright side, the Steelers’ defense has actually been one of the ‘better’ teams in the league on first down so far this year. They currently rank ninth in the league in allowing 5.35 yards per play on first down. Their next opponents, the Baltimore Ravens, rank fourth, allowing 4.78 yards. The Dallas Cowboys are the only team allowing an average of fewer than four yards per play, at 3.96.
Despite this, Pittsburgh is in the bottom half in terms of giving up first downs on the first play of a new sequence, 23.7 percent of the time. They have allowed 52 first downs on 219 plays that have come on first down.
One of the reasons that they rank in the bottom half in the latter but the top half in the former is because they also lead the league in first-down sacks with 11, the only team in double digits. In addition to the 11 sacks, they also have 14 tackles for lost yardage on first down.
The problem is they’ve also given up 15 explosive plays on first down, including four of 40 or more yards and two beyond 50, with a long of 71. The Browns had three of them on Sunday, so it’s clear that it’s still a current problem.
These numbers come from Pro Football Reference.