Steelers 2020 Defensive Charting: First Four Weeks

Back for one of my favorite quarterly recaps we sprinkle in throughout the season. Following data based on our hand-done defensive charting. If there are any numbers we leave out, let us know in the comments before and we’ll look it up (if we track it.)

– Excluding kneel-downs and no plays (false starts, offsides, etc), the Steelers defense has been on the field for 250 plays. Puts them on pace for just 1000 snaps this season. That would place them on the low end of things, though not significantly so. Here are yearly snap counts since 2015:

2020: 1000 (on pace for)
2018: 1021
2017: 979
2016: 1040
2015: 1102

– Here’s a breakdown of personnel use through the team’s first four games:

Nickel: 42%
3-4: 31.6%
Dime: 26%
4-4: 0.4%

Fairly tight cluster. Not too different than last year’s totals. Nickel is down 47.2% in 2019, 3-4 up from 28%, while dime has seen the biggest increase jumping up from 15.9% a season ago.

Those numbers can be stratified even more. They’ve used their 3-4 over front on 12 snaps this season, 4.8% of the total defensive snaps and 15.2% of their 3-4 snaps. Last week against the Eagles, they ran a 1-4-6 dime defense eight times.

– Overall, the team is in base 31.6% of the time. They are in sub 68% of the time. Funny enough, that 68/31 split is the exact same as their average of the past five years.

– Let’s check in on Keith Butler’s blitz rates this season. Reminder, our definition of a blitz is any non-traditional pass rusher (so anyone not aligned as a DL or OLB) coming after the QB. We have a separate category for when he sends 5+ rushers, the more traditional definition of “blitz.”

Blitz: 39.2%
5+: 48.9%

Looking closer, there’s a big difference between their approach in Week 1 and 2 against the Giants and Broncos and the past two games versus the Texans and Eagles. Here are those splits.

Weeks 1-2: 

Blitz: 46.1%
5+: 58.9%

Weeks 3-4:

Blitz: 29.7%
5+: 35.1%

So pretty stark difference and approach.

Butler blitzed and sent five 33 and 34 percent respectively last season so these numbers are up. But as the past two weeks indicate, these numbers are coming down and should normalize soon.

Let’s check things out by position group.

Defensive Line


Stephon Tuitt: 13
Cam Heyward: 6
Tyson Alualu: 3
Chris Wormley: 2
Isaiah Buggs: 0
Carlos Davis: 0

– Snaps per pressure. Lower the number, the better.

Wormley: 9.5
Tuitt: 10.9
Alualu: 23.7
Heyward: 23.8

Tuitt’s 10.5 is a career high for him, even better than the torrent pace he was on a season ago (12.5 in 2019). Didn’t expect Heyward to be behind Alualu. And Buggs, who doesn’t have a pressure this season so doesn’t show up in this data, has 26 pass rushes through the first month.

– Steelers’ yards per carry allowed when Tyson Alualu is on the field? 0.78. That’s not a mistake. Offenses are averaging three quarters of a yard with #94 out there.

As an extension of that, the Steelers are allowing just 1.4 yards per carry in their base 3-4 defense, regardless of personnel. 36% of opposing runs, 13 of 36, have been for no gain or a loss. Only ten of them, 27.8%, have been successful runs. Absurdly good stuff.



Bud Dupree: 18
TJ Watt: 16
Vince Williams: 3
Devin Bush: 2
Ola Adeniyi: 1
Alex Highsmith: 1

Snaps per pressure:

Williams: 5.7
Dupree: 8
Watt: 8.5
Bush: 9
Adeniyi: 20
Highsmith: 27

Excellent numbers across the board. Williams has three pressures on 17 rushes. Watt and Dupree are besting their pressure rate from last year, something I didn’t think was possible.

Coverage rates for the OLBs:

Adeniyi: 0%
Watt: 5.6%
Dupree: 5.9%
Highsmith: 12.9%

As we wrote about last week, Watt and Dupree continue to drop at all-time low rates. Under 10% last year, now around 5%. Adeniyi has rushed the QB on all 20 of his opportunities. Highsmith was a small sample size, 31 pass snaps, dropping four times.

– Coverage numbers for Devin Bush and Vince Williams.

Devin Bush: 6/11 70 yards 1 TD 0 INTs
Vince Williams: 3/7 35 yards 1 TD 0 INTs

– QB rating against each:

Bush: 104.4
Williams: 98.2


– Target stats for the DBs.

Cam Sutton: 0/1 0 yards 0 TDs 0 INTs
Minkah Fitzpatrick: 5/7 63 yards 1 TD 0 INTs
Mike Hilton: 6/13 107 yards 0 TDs 1 INT
Steven Nelson: 6/15 91 yards 2 TDs 2 INTs
Terrell Edmunds: 12/16 129 yards 0 TDs 0 INT
Joe Haden: 12/20 233 yards 2 TDs 1 INT

– QB rating against each player:

Sutton: 39.6
Hilton: 42.8
Nelson: 60.7
Edmunds: 98.2
Haden: 113.1
Fitzpatrick: 138.7

These results are…unexpected. Sample sizes are still pretty small but Minkah Fitzpatrick with the highest rating against. Terrell Edmunds having a better rating than him or Haden is pretty crazy, though Edmunds’ high completion percentage against showcases his weak ball skills.

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