Steelers 2021 Defensive Charting – First Four Weeks

For the first time of 2021, we’re taking a look at the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense according to the weekly charting we do. We’ll revisit this every four weeks (five weeks at the end of the year with the 17th game) with some of the numbers we’ve been tracking year-by-year. Things like blitz rate, pressures, targets, all the data we can extrapolate out of the weekly charting we conduct.

Let’s dive in.

– Excluding plays negated by penalty, the Steelers’ defense has been on the field for 257 snaps this season. That puts them on pace for 1092.3 in 2021, a number that actually falls right in line with past years in 16-game seasons. Here are the yearly numbers.

2021: 1092.3* (on pace for)
2018: 1021
2017: 979
2016: 1040
2015: 1102

Kinda surprising. But the defense barely saw the field against the Bengals, 42 defensive snaps, so that’s keeping these numbers relatively in-line. It’s still about 100 more compared to a season ago.

Always like looking at personnel grouping data. Here it is from the first month.

Nickel: 49.4% (127 snaps)
3-4: 26.8% (69 snaps)
Dime: 23.7% (61 snaps)

Nickel with the big lead, responsible for half the team’s snaps. Not a lot of variety in terms of specific types of defense (i.e. 3-5, Amoeba, Goal Line) so far. Sub-package makes up 73.1% of the team’s snaps, a higher percentage than we’ve seen in years past. Some of that stems from how little base the team used against the Buffalo Bills (2 of 79 snaps – 2.5%). Over the last three weeks, the base rate is fairly high (37.4%) in part due to opponents having second half leads and grinding the clock. So these numbers are settling in still.

Last season, the Steelers were in their 3-4 defense 36.6% of the time.

The Steelers have used their 3-4 over front 17.4% of their 69 base snaps this season. That number was 18.5% last year so right in-line.

We’ve mentioned some of this data yesterday but worth repeating. Blitz and 5+ rush numbers.

The Steelers are blitzing 24.3% of the time this season. That’s down from 35.6% last season. Here’s the game-by-game numbers.

Week 1 (Bills): 13.2%
Week 2 (Raiders): 30.0%
Week 3 (Bengals): 31.6%
Week 4 (Packers): 30.6%

So the Bills game is bringing down that overall number, though the other games have still been slightly below average seasonal numbers and they haven’t had a super aggressive performance like they’ve been known to do. Especially in games where injuries would lend themselves to blitzing more to generate pass rush. That hasn’t happened.

The Steelers’ 5+ rush rate sits at only 15.5% too. Last year, it sat at 38.9%. Here are those weekly numbers.

Week 1 (Bills): 1.9%
Week 2 (Raiders): 20.0%
Week 3 (Bengals): 26.3%
Week 4 (Packers): 25.0%

Again, Bills game dragging the overall number down but the rates are still low compared to where they’ve been.

Ok let’s get into individual numbers.

Defensive Line


Cam Heyward:11
Tyson Alualu:
Chris Wormley: 3

Which means zero pressures for: Carlos Davis (who has been hurt for several weeks), Isaiahh Loudermilk, Isaiah Buggs, and Henry Mondeaux. Combined, those guys have played 76 passing snaps. And have zero pressures.

Snaps per pressure. Lower the number, the better.

Heyward: 11.4
Alualu: 12.7
Wormley: 31.7

By comparison, Heyward’s pressure rate last year was 15.9 snaps per pressure. So he’s beating that this season, a sign of how dominant he’s been.

Here’s a wild stat. This number lacks some level of context but the data is still jarring.

– With Cam Heyward on the field, the Steelers’ run defense is allowing just 3.0 yards per carry and a 44.4% run success rate. 20 of those runs (24.7%) have gone for 5+ yards.

– With Cam Heyward off the field, the Steelers’ run defense is allowing 8.1 yards per carry and a 76.5% run success rate. Ten of those runs (58.8%) have gone for 5+ yards.

An astounding difference with him on and off the field. Really shows his value.

– With Tyson Alualu on the field, the defense is allowing 3.4 YPC. With Isaiah Buggs on the field, the defense is allowing 5.0 YPC.

– Not to put it all on him but on Henry Mondeaux’s eight snaps against the run, the Steelers are giving up 10.8 yards per carry. Three runs of 15+ yards.



Melvin Ingram: 11
T.J. Watt: 8
Alex Highsmith: 2
Devin Bush: 1

Snaps per pressure.

Ingram: 8.5
Watt: 10.1
Highsmith: 29.5

Very good numbers from Ingram and Watt. Watt’s pressure number last year was 8.7 so he’s just a little below that and Ingram is actually ahead of it. Highsmith has just two pressures in three games but I think he has played better, even as a pass rusher, than those numbers suggest.

Coverage rates:

Watt: 9.9%
Highsmith: 18.1%
Ingram: 15.3%

Watt’s number right in-line with last year’s (9.4%). Highsmith and Ingram’s especially are higher than I expected but that could “normalize” later in the season.

– Target data for the LBs.

Joe Schobert: 5/10 71 yards 1 TD 0 INTs
Devin Bush: 4/5 36 yards 1 TD 0 INTs
Robert Spillane: 2/3 19 yards 0 TDs 0 INTs
Melvin Ingram: 2/2 19 yards 0 TDs 0 INTs
Alex Highsmith: 1/1 6 yards 0 TDs 0 INTs

– QB rating against:

Spillane: 84.0
Highsmith: 91.7
Schobert: 92.1
Ingram: 106.3
Bush: 136.3

Keep in mind most of these samples are very smaller. Only two worth looking at are Schobert and *maybe* Bush’s.


– Target numbers:

Cam Sutton: 11/15 126 yards 1 TD 0 INTs
James Pierre: 10/14 145 yards 1 TD 0 INTs
Joe Haden: 7/11 92 yards 1 TD 0 INTs
Minkah Fitzpatrick: 5/8 87 yards 2 TDs 1 INT
Terrell Edmunds: 2/7 35 yards 1 TD 0 INTs
Tre Norwood: 4/5 49 yards 0 TDs 0 INTs
Justin Layne: 1/1 4 yards 0 TDs 0 INTs

QB rating against:

Layne: 83.3
Edmunds: 87.5
Fitzpatrick: 99.5
Norwood: 107.5
Haden: 120.3
Sutton: 120.4
Pierre: 128.6

Again, still small sample sizes. Edmunds has done a good job with a low completion rate but allowed a touchdown to Randall Cobb Sunday. Fitzpatrick with an un-Fitzpatrick like number. Last year, his passer rating against was 19.2. The 61 yard TD by Henry Ruggs really dinged him.

– Slot snaps this season:

Norwood: 86
Maulet: 52
Fitzpatrick: 36
Sutton: 17

– Worth noting that in the team’s 2-4-5 nickel defense, Maulet and Norwood have each played 52 slot snaps.

Dime snaps.

Sutton: 51
Norwood: 10

– Maulet and Norwood have each blitzed five times this season.

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