The Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense is not quite living up to the heights of the 2019 season just yet. As a defense, they allowed the third-fewest passing yards in the NFL last year, holding opponents to under 200 yards per game on average. They only allowed 200 or more yards twice from week four on.
So far through the first four games of the 2020 season, they are allowing 238 yards per game, and every team has thrown for over 200 yards. Even the Denver Broncos playing primarily with a backup quarterback managed 215 net passing yards, in a game in which they recorded seven sacks for a loss of 61 yards.
Something has to give, or at least that was the implication behind the question asked by a reporter today when he addressed Mike Tomlin about the touchdowns, yardage, and penalties so far that have been given up by the secondary.
“I just attribute it to a four-game sample size. Keep watching”, Tomlin said. “We will continue to write our story, particularly as it pertains to comparing it to a 16-game body of work from a year ago. If you took a sample size of our body of work from last year at this time through four games it was miserable, I think. We are very much in development, and I like the overall trajectory of our group in the corners. We’re just going to keep working”.
The Steelers do have four interceptions from their cornerbacks so far this season, with Steven Nelson getting two on Sunday. Mike Hilton and Joe Haden also have one apiece. Nelson and Hilton have already matched or exceeded their interception total from a year ago, though Haden had five. Collectively, these three had seven last year, though, and right now they’re on pace for 16, so there is that.
But Nelson has already been responsible for surrendering a few touchdowns this year, after giving up zero in 2019. Haden has had a hand in allowing a couple of receptions to cross the end zone as well, including the final Eagles touchdown on Sunday.
Tomlin didn’t necessarily say that the secondary doesn’t have to play better. He said that he believes the numbers will look better when all is said and done. It’s true that the numbers last year through three games didn’t look very good, but that was largely without Minkah Fitzpatrick, and he’s been here all four games for 2020.
Still, when you look at the numbers as a team, they’re not as bad as they may seem. In particular, the defense is allowing just 5.8 yards per pass attempt. They still want that a bit lower, but that is the fifth-best mark in the NFL.