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Steelers’ 2021 Defensive Charting – Mid-Season (Ish) Review

Updating our defensive charting numbers and metrics. Didn’t have time to do this last week but with the new 17-game season, this week is still roughly a halfway mark of the season, nine games into the year. We’ll revisit these numbers in a couple more weeks.

For now, let’s dive in.

– Excluding “no plays” due to penalty, the Steelers’ defense has logged 566 snaps this season. That puts them on pace to log 1069 this season. That is a lower pace than they were on after the first four weeks when they were on track to play 1092. With two overtime games since, it’s a pleasant surprise to see this number not be higher.

Again, here are the yearly numbers.

2021: 1069.1* (on pace for)
2020:
 992
2019: 
1067
2018: 1021
2017: 979
2016: 1040
2015: 1102

– Here are their personnel groupings so far.

Nickel: 43.6% (247 snaps)
3-4: 35.5% (201 snaps)
Dime: 20.8% (118 snaps)

Since the first month of the season, nickel has come down, base defense has come up, and dime usage has decreased. Last season, Pittsburgh was in their base 3-4 defense 36.6% of the time so this number is very close to that mark. 3-4 isn’t played like it used to be but it’s still been used over one-third of the time and isn’t too far off from pure nickel usage.

Collectively, the Steelers are still in their sub-package 64.5% of the time. It’s the third-lowest sub-package rate since 2015, only higher than 2020 (60.1%) and 2017 (61.1%). Overall, the idea that base defense is dead is just wrong. It’s been reduced but the ebb and flow has trended towards base defense over the last two years, not away from it.

I did use broad buckets for the 3-4 defense and dime. For example, 3-4 has several variations to it. Here are the breakdown of the 201 3-4 snaps.

True Base: 76.1% (153 snaps)
Over Front: 17.4% (35 snaps)
Big Base: 6.0% (12 snaps)
Big Over: 0.5% (1 snap)

“Big Base” is the team’s three safety package” while the over front refers to a shift against the offense’s strength. 29 of those have come against heavy personnel, 80.6% of the time. The over front was used 18.5% of the time last season so this number again is just about in-line (17.9% total this season).

The Steelers have also used a variation of their dime defense, a 1-4-6 look as opposed to the more traditional 2-3-6 personnel grouping. This is due to the losses of Stephon Tuitt, Tyson Alualu, and even Carlos Davis, some of the team’s top pass rush defensive linemen. The 1-4-6 has been used on 17.8% of their dime snaps this year. Cam Heyward has been the lone d-lineman on all of those plays.

– Pittsburgh has blitzed on just 25.8% of their snaps this season, continuing their trend of not bringing much heat this season. It was 35.6% in 2020. Here are the weekly numbers.

Week 1 (Bills): 13.2%
Week 2 (Raiders): 30.0%
Week 3 (Bengals): 31.6%
Week 4 (Packers): 30.6%
Week 5 (Broncos): 31.5%
Week 6 (Seahawks): 43.8%
Week 8 (Browns): 14.7%
Week 9 (Bears): 21.6%
Week 10 (Lions): 23.1%

Number gone over 33% of the time just once this season and the numbers have cratered the last three weeks, under 25% each game.

Their 5+ rush rate is even lower at 22.5%. Last year, it was 38.9% of the time. Steep dropoffs in each category.

– Ok, let’s get into the individual numbers.

DEFENSIVE LINE

Pressures

Cam Heyward: 25
Chris Wormley: 9
Tyson Alualu: 3
Isaiahh Loudermilk: 2
Henry Mondeaux: 2
Isaiah Buggs: 1

– Pretty sad that Alualu is third on the team in DL pressures and he hasn’t played since Week 2. Combined, Loudermilk, Mondeaux, and Buggs have just five total pressures.

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

Heyward: 11.3
Alualu: 12.7
Mondeaux: 20.5
Wormley: 23.9
Loudermilk: 30.5
Buggs: 75

Numbers don’t look too good aside from Heyward who is currently beating his pressure mark of last year (15.1). In fact, Heyward’s 2021 is better than his or Stephon Tuitt’s from a year ago.

– With Cam Heyward on the field, the Steelers are allowing 4.3 YPC. With Cam Heyward off the field, they are allowing 6.8 YPC. Opposing offenses have a 61.1% run success rate with Heyward off the field. Didn’t calculate it when he’s on the field but I promise there is a big discrepancy there.

– When Henry Mondeaux is on the field, the Steelers are allowing 7.2 YPC. When Isaiah Buggs is on the field, they’re allowing 5.8 YPC. Surprisingly, when rookie Isaiahh Loudermilk is on the field, the Steelers are allowing just 2.9 YPC.

Linebackers

Pressures

TJ Watt: 25
Alex Highsmith: 11
Devin Bush: 5
Derrek Tuszka: 1

Snaps per pressure:

Watt: 8.6
Highsmith: 17.9

Just did these for Watt and Highsmith, the two guys with large enough sample sizes to work with. Watt is edging out his pressure numbers from last year (8.7) while Highsmith is down from a year ago (13.9).

Coverage Snap Rates:

Watt: 8.5%
Highsmith: 11.2%
Tuszka: 12.9%
Charlton: 18.5%

Watt is about a full point lower than last year. Highsmith almost identical (11.9% last year). Charlton is high but a small sample size and part of the 3 OLB stuff he was doing early on.

– Target data for the LBs:

Devin Bush: 10/13 114 yards 1 TD 0 INT
Joe Schobert: 10/16 120 yards 1 TD 0 INT
Robert Spillane: 3/4 31 yards 0 TDs 0 INT
Alex Highsmith: 2/4 9 yards 0 TDs 0 INT
TJ Watt: 1/4 15 yards 0 TDs 0 INT

– QB rating against:

Watt: 42.7
Highsmith: 56.3
Spillane: 96.9
Schobert: 106.3
Bush: 128.4

Secondary

– Target numbers:

Arthur Maulet: 4/7 75 yards 1 TD 0 INT
Terrell Edmunds: 7/16 83 yards 2 TDs 0 INT
Minkah Fitzpatrick: 11/19 190 yards 2 TDs 1 INT
Tre Norwood: 14/20 127 yards 0 TDs 0 INT
James Pierre: 15/24 222 yards 2 TDs 1 INT
Cam Sutton: 18/24 256 yards 1 TD 0 INT
Joe Haden: 14/27 182 yards 1 TD 0 INT

Edmunds’ INT was awarded to Fitzpatrick because Fitzpatrick made the play and tipped the pass.

– QB Rating against:

Haden: 85.7
Norwood: 86.9
Edmunds: 99.7
Pierre: 103.1
Fitzpatrick: 105.2
Sutton: 122.9
Maulet: 133.9

Numbers sure don’t look pretty.

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