They say the NFL is a passing league nowadays. The statistics also back that up. Even when a team breaks the all-time NFL record for rushing yards in a single season—they still lead the league in touchdown passes.
On average, teams attempted 558 passes last season, completing 354 of them for 3760 yards, throwing 25 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. That’s 17,853 pass attempts, with 11,331 completions, thrown for 120,301 yards. 797 passing touchdowns. 410 interceptions. Compared to 13,387 rushing attempts, for 57,806 yards.
In other words, for a starting cornerback to see over 1000 snaps in a single season these days and to go that stretch without giving up a single touchdown, that says something. That’s an accomplishment. And the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Steven Nelson, their prized free agent signing last March, was among those cornerbacks in recent years to be able to lay claim to that accomplishment.
“I kind of kept track of that and knew that in the back of my mind, but when that came stat out, you realize it’s tough to do”, he recently told Teresa Varley for the Steelers’ website about his impressive feat. “When you are in the National Football League and you are out there every play, it’s tough to not give up a touchdown. It’s kind of crazy”.
According to Pro Football Focus, Nelson was targeted 74 times last season, allowing 37 receptions for 491 yards. With zero touchdowns allowed and one interception, quarterbacks earned a rating of just 65.8 throwing in his direction. And the biggest play he gave up during the year was due to a defensive miscommunication with Terrell Edmunds that allowed Odell Beckham to get behind him in the first game against the Cleveland Browns. Take out that one 42-yard play and he only allowed 449 yards.
He didn’t have that same efficiency in 2018 during his first full season as a starter with the Kansas City Chiefs. That year, he allowed 59 receptions after being heavily targeted (over 100 times), giving up 766 yards and surrendering five touchdowns, even if he got four interceptions. He tightened things up significantly after his first foray into an every-down boundary defender.
“I take pride in it because I work really hard at my craft. I study a lot of film”, he told Varley. “I do everything necessary so I can be successful on game day. To see that stat come out, it’s fulfilling. I didn’t get the splash plays like I wanted, but to not give up touchdowns, you don’t want to do that either. That gives me momentum”.
It’s worth noting that Pro Football Focus does charge him with a touchdown in Week One (which doesn’t make much sense), but the only other cornerbacks they claim to have not surrendered a touchdown playing a significant number of snaps last season were D.J. Hayden and Tre’Davious White.