If the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense intercepted quarterbacks as many times as we talk about this issue, I wouldn’t have to write this article. But the more I dig into the numbers, the more I’m blown away by how bad this defense has been at creating splash plays.
We know what happened last year. Eight interceptions, six from the secondary, the many, many chances they let slip through their hands. They have to fix last year’s woes. That’s a fact.
But this isn’t a new problem. Failing to have a playmaker in the secondary has plagued this defense since Troy Polamalu retired. And I mean that literally. Polamalu is the last member of the Steelers’ defense to record at least 4 interceptions in a single season, picking off seven way back in 2010. For the last eight years, no one else has done it.
How bad of a drought is that?
Get this. It’s the longest streak in NFL history. Not active. Not in franchise history. In the entirety of professional football.
I’ve gone through each team’s history. Here are the longest streaks of a defender failing to record 4+ picks over the course of the season.
|Pittsburgh Steelers||2011-present||8 seasons (active)|
|Cincinnati Bengals||1998-2002||5 seasons|
|Denver Broncos||2015-present||4 seasons (active)|
|San Francisco 49ers||2015-present||4 seasons (active)|
|San Diego Chargers||2012-2015||4 seasons|
|Denver Broncos||2010-2013||4 seasons|
|Minnesota Vikings||2010-2013||4 seasons|
|Detroit Lions||2006-2009||4 seasons|
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers||1991-1994||4 seasons|
The one caveat, a minor saving grace, is the evolution of the game. You can see it in the chart. Though teams throw more than ever before, passing games have become more refined and it’s harder to pick the ball off. But no team has come close to a streak like the Steelers and over the last 15 years, every other team have multiple examples of a defender who stumbled his way into a couple of interceptions.
Since 2005, only twice has someone on the Steelers finished a year with 4+ interceptions. Troy in 2008 and 2010. Over the span, every other defense has at least seven such instances. 25 teams have at least ten, Green Bay has the high mark at 20, and the league average, excluding Pittsburgh, is 13.2.
Again, the Steelers have done it twice. Don’t blame it just on a league evolution problem. Pittsburgh lives in a basement all its own.
If you’re wondering, the last Steelers’ corner to pick off four in a year was Deshea Townsend in 2004. Yup, 15 years ago. That also ranks last in the league, which I’m sure doesn’t come as a surprise. From ’05 to present day, all other defenses have had corners do it at least four times.
That’s why Steven Nelson was such a big signing. It’s no guarantee to happen again but he picked off four passes last year. They need him – or anyone, a corner, safety, linebacker, I don’t care – to break this drought that’s manifested itself into a curse.
Steelers With 4+ INTs (2005-2018)
Troy Polamalu: 7 (2008)
Troy Polamalu: 7 (2010)