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Steelers 2022 Defensive Charting – First Four Weeks

Today we’ll be reviewing our defensive charting of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense through the first four weeks. Going through personnel groupings, blitz rates, target numbers, all the things we’ve tracked over the years to be able to compare and contrast.

– Excluding no-plays and kneeldowns, the Steelers’ defense has been on the field for 296 snaps through four games. They’re on pace for 1258 snaps this season. Here’s how that stacks up to other years:

2022: 1258 snaps (74.0 per game)
2021:
1108 snaps (65.2 per game)
2020: 992 snaps (62 per game)
2019: 
1067 snaps (66.7 per game)
2018: 1021 snaps (63.8 per game)
2017: 979 snaps (61.2 per game)
2016: 1040 snaps (65.0 per game)
2015: 1102 snaps (68.9 per game)

Nine-snap increase from last year though Week One’s OT game is skewing the number and this figure should come down by our next check-in.

– Let’s break things down by grouping. I’ll start by keeping it broad.

Nickel: 45.2% (134 snaps)
3-3-5: 20.6% (61 snaps)
3-4: 18.9% (56 snaps)
Dime: 12.1% (36 snaps)
3-5: 2.4% (7 snaps)
4-3: 0.3% (1 snap)
Goal Line: 0.3% (1 snap)

The 2-4-5 Nickel is about the same as last year but been replaced by the 3-3-5, which I’d call nickel but tries to blend run stopping (three DL) and coverage (three CBs). Only needs one OLB to help minimize Watt’s loss. Base defense has seen the biggest decrease, nearly cut in half after being used 35.6% of the time last season. Dime has also seen a reduction but a lesser one than base. However, it’s only been used five snaps the last two weeks. Injuries eliminated dime as a choice last week against the Jets.

– Of course, we can break things down even further. With T.J. Watt out, the Steelers have used a total of 17 different defensive groupings/alignments this season. Compare that to all of last year when the Steelers used 11 different groupings/alignments. Aside from the basics you’ve seen above the Steelers have also used this year:

3-3-5 Big (Three Safeties) – 1 Snap
3-3-5 Over (DL shifted) – 13 Snaps
3-3-5 Over Big (DL Shifted, Three Safeties) – 1 Snap
3-4 Big (Three Safeties) – 4 Snaps
3-4 Nickel (3 CBs, 1 S) – 1 Snap
3-4 Over (DL Shifted) – 6 Snaps
3-4 Trio (3 ILBs, 1 OLB) – 9 Snaps
Dime Big (3 DL, 2 LBs, 6 DBs) – 1 Snap
Nickel Big (Three Safeties) – 6 Snaps
Nickel Trio (3 ILBs, 1 ILB) – 6 Snaps

– The Steelers have blitzed 25.8% of the time this year. That is down from last year’s number, and 2021 was low, of just 26.1%. Here’s the Steelers’ weekly 2022 rate:

Week 1 – 21.0%
Week 2 – 25%
Week 3 – 40%
Week 4 – 22.9%

The Steelers are blitzing more post-Watt but the overall rate is still low.

– They’ve sent 5+ rushers 22.1% of the time. That’s slightly below last year’s mark of 22.7%. 36/163

Week 1 – 14.5%
Week 2 – 27.8%
Week 3 – 30%
Week 4 – 22.9%

– Even without Watt, the blitz and rush rates have remained low. A bit of a curious decision but the course this team has charted.

– Here are individual numbers:

Defensive Line

Pressures

Cam Heyward: 7
Larry Ogunjobi: 5
Tyson Alualu: 3
Chris Wormley: 3
DeMarvin Leal: 1
Montravius Adams: 0

Four of those for Heyward came in Week One. Which means he has more in Week One than he’s had in Weeks 2-4…and more than any other Steelers’ defensive lineman the entire season.

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

Heyward: 17.1
Wormley: 20.3
Alualu: 21.7
Ogunjobi: 22
Leal: 40

Heyward’s pressure rate is slightly worse than last season (13.0). But since Week One, his rate is once every 21 snaps. Far worse. The rest of the numbers here are average except for Leal, who hasn’t generated much pressure so far. He’s a ball of energy finding out how to win as a pass rusher.

– Heyward still having an impact in the run game. While this is a broad number, when he’s on the field, opposing teams are averaging just 3.4 YPC. When he’s off the field, he’s averaging just 5.0 YPC.

Linebackers

Pressures

Alex Highsmith: 11
Malik Reed: 4
Devin Bush: 3
Robert Spillane: 3
T.J. Watt: 2
Myles Jack: 2

– Watt’s number obviously comes in just one game and is hard to judge.

And here’s the snaps per pressure number:

Highsmith: 12.7
Reed: 21
Watt: 20.5

Highsmith’s pressure rate was 16.1 last year so we’re seeing a clear increase here though it’s still half of what Watt posted in 2021 (6.8).

Here are the coverage rates:

Reed: 12.5%
Highsmith: 8.5%
Watt: 4.7%

Highsmith dropped 9.4% last year so this number is in-line. He dropped a ton against the Browns, about one-third of the time, which influenced his numbers.

– Highsmith has rushed with his hand down 37.3% of the time this year. That’s pass plays only. That’s way up from 29.3% last year. Interestingly, he’s a more effective rusher with his hand up (8.5% pressure rate) than with his hand down (5.3% pressure rate).

– Spillane has blitzed ten times (14.1%), Jack has blitzed twelve times (7.9%), and Bush ten times (9.7%) this season. This doesn’t include any rushes off the edge – Spillane was used there in Week 4.

Target Numbers:

Myles Jack: 11/15 65 yards 0 TDs 0 INTs
Devin Bush: 5/9 59 yards 0 TDs 0 INTs
Robert Spillane: 3/3 24 yards 0 TDs 0 INTs

QB Rating Against:

Spillane: 100.0
Jack: 81.3
Bush: 75.7

Secondary

– Target numbers:

Cam Sutton: 11/22 136 yards 2 TDs 2 INTs
Ahkello Witherspoon: 13/18 155 yards 2 TDs 1 INT
Levi Wallace: 9/17 105 yards 0 TDs 0 INTs
Minkah Fitzpatrick: 2/10 17 yards 0 TDs 3 INTs
Arthur Maulet: 5/8 84 yards 0 TDs 0 INTs
Terrell Edmunds: 4/7 61 yards 2 TDs 0 INTs
Tre Norwood: 0/2 0 yards

QB Rating Against:

Fitzpatrick: 0.0
Norwood: 39.6
Sutton: 61.9
Wallace: 71.9
Maulet: 97.9
Witherspoon: 112.0
Edmunds: 125.6

– Fitzpatrick’s numbers are just unconscious. Combine his stats from 2019 to 2022 and QB rating when targeting him is just 36.9. Full numbers are: 36/91 (39.6%) 504 yards, 5 TDs and 14 INTs. Keep in mind these are targets and sometimes players can be credited INTs even if the box score doesn’t show it – I do my stats differently than other places.

– Minkah Fitzpatrick and Arthur Maulet each have two pressures while Terrell Edmunds has one.

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