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Steelers 2020 Defensive Charting: First 13 Games

Know we recap our Pittsburgh Steelers’ defensive charting every four weeks of the season. Because last week was a bit crunched from the Sunday night to Sunday game, and with a bit of a lull until Monday’s contest against the Cincinnati Bengals, I decided to hold off on the charting until today.

In-depth analysis of the Steelers’ defense through their first 13 games.

– Excluding kneeldowns and “no plays,” the Steelers’ defense has played 839 snaps this season. Average of 64.5 per game. That puts them on pace to play 1032 snaps this season, about 30 less than where they were a year ago.

– Here’s the team’s personnel groupings through the first 13 games.

Nickel: 42.1% (353 snaps)
3-4: 36.6% (307 snaps)
Dime: 20.4% (171 snaps)
GL: 0.7% (6 snaps)
Quarter: 0.1% (1 snap)
4-4: 0.1% (1 snap)

Those are just the bigger, broader packages. For example, you can break down their 3-4 defense as (this is a percentage of the 307 3-4 snaps):

Base 3-4: 60.3% (185 snaps)
3-4 Over: 17.9% (55 snaps)
3-4 Small/Nickel: 9.8% (30 snaps)
3-4 Over/Nickel: 3.6% (11 snaps)
3-4 Off: 0.7% (2 snaps)
3-4 Off/Nickel: 0.3% (1 snap)

Quick clarification on what some of those titles mean. Base 3-4 is your conventional 3-4. The “over” front is their strongside shift, most often against 12 personnel/stacked tight end sets. The 3-4 Small/Nickel is when the team has a third corner and one safety (usually vs 11 personnel so they keep their front seven while accounting for the slot receiver) while the 3-4 “Off” was a small wrinkle with Cam Heyward playing a standup linebacker position.

– Here is the split between base and sub-packages this year, excluding their 4-4 and goal line defenses which are sorta floaty and don’t fall into either bucket.

Base: 36.9%
Sub-package: 63.1%

If that number holds, it’ll be their second highest base usage of the last six years, 2015-present. Only surpassed by 2017, when base came in at 38.8%.

– Let’s check out Keith Butler’s blitz rates. He’s blitzing at a 37.1% rate this season. That’s up 0.7% from the mid-way part of the year. Here’s his week-to-week blitz rate.

Week 1 vs NYG: 52.7%
Week 2 vs DEN: 41.7%
Week 3 vs HOU: 21.9%
Week 5 vs PHI: 34.1%
Week 6 vs CLE: 29.0%
Week 7 vs TEN: 19.4%
Week 8 vs BAL: 34.3%
Week 9 vs DAL: 46.3%
Week 10 vs CIN: 27.9%
Week 11 vs JAC: 46.3%
Week 12 vs BAL: 22.7%
Week 13 vs WSH: 22.9%
Week 14 vs BUF: 62.0%

So Butler blitzed more than ever against Josh Allen and the Bills. Worked in the first half. Didn’t work in the second half. He’s more apt to blitz worse QBs like Daniel Jones, Garrett Gilbert, Jake Luton, and Drew Lock/Jeff Driskell.

His 5+ rush rate this season is 41.3%. That’s down a little more than one percent from mid-season and gone down over the course of the year. It sat at 48.9% after the first four games. So Butler’s been more conservative overall lately, though again, the Buffalo game is a clear exception.

– Let’s check out each position group.

Defensive Line

Pressures

Cam Heyward: 28
Stephon Tuitt: 27
Tyson Alualu: 8
Chris Wormley: 5
Henry Mondeaux: 2
Isaiah Buggs: 1
Carlos Davis: 0

Snaps Per Pressure

Lower the number, the better.

Wormley: 8.4
Tuitt: 14.7
Mondeaux: 15.5
Heyward: 15.5
Alualu: 21.5
Buggs: 53

Heyward’s pressure numbers have shot up. Doubled over the last five games and his snaps per pressure has improved from 19.1 after Week 9 to 15.5 after Week 14.

Linebackers

Pressures

TJ Watt: 47
Bud Dupree: 32
Vince Williams: 7
Alex Highsmith: 6
Devin Bush: 4
Avery Williamson: 1
Ola Adeniyi: 1

Snaps Per Pressure

Lower the number, the better.

Williams: 6.1
Watt: 8.8
Dupree: 10.6
Highsmith: 23
Adeniyi: 56

Numbers essentially the same across the board for Williams, Watt, and Dupree. Highsmith’s numbers have fallen as his playing time and volume has expanded. Adeniyi has really struggled as a pass rusher. Still looking for his first career sack and very few pressures. Only four in his career.

Here are the OLB coverage rates:

Adeniyi: 1.8%
Dupree: 8.6%
Watt: 9.2%
Highsmith: 10.4%

Watt’s numbers have stabilized after dropping back a good bit during mid-season. Adeniyi’s sample size is limited (57 rushes) but he’s clearly a “go forward only” go. Dropped into coverage just once. And Highsmith’s drop rate has come down as a full-time linebacker replacing Dupree.

– Linebacker target numbers.

Marcus Allen: 0/1, 0 yards 0 TDs 0 INTs
Avery Williamson: 4/6, 29 yards 0 TDs 0 INTs
TJ Watt: 1/8, 20 yards 1 TD 1 INT
Robert Spillane: 9/16, 99 yards 0 TDs 1 INT
Vince Williams: 12/17, 153 yards 4 TDs 0 INTs

– QB rating for each player.

Allen: 39.6
Williamson: 77.8
Watt: 39.5
Spillane: 48.7
Williams: 138.0

Defensive Backs 

– Coverage numbers for the DBs.

Antoine Brooks Jr.: 0/1, 0 yards 0 TDs 0 INTs
James Pierre: 1/1, -1 yards 0 TDs 0 INTs
Justin Layne: 2/4, 1 yard 0 TDs 0 INTs
Mike Hilton: 9/19, 121 yards 0 TDs 2 INTs
Minkah Fitzpatrick: 8/22, 117 yards 1 TD 3 INTs
Cam Sutton: 21/34, 259 yards 1 TD 1 INT
Terrell Edmunds: 17/35, 243 yards 1 TD 2 INT
Steven Nelson: 22/42, 218 yards 5 TDs 2 INTs
Joe Haden: 29/57, 427 yards 2 TDs 2 INTs

– QB rating for each player.

Hilton: 28.5
Fitzpatrick:
30.1
Brooks:
39.6
Layne: 56.3
Edmunds: 57.2
Haden: 72.8
Pierre: 79.2
Sutton: 82.8
Nelson: 87.1

Minkah Fitzpatrick’s QB rating against last year? 53.7. This year? 30.1. Don’t throw at #39.

Edmunds’ QB rating against last year? 139.6. This year? 57.2. Huge difference.

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