By Michael Shouse
As Steelers fans we have always known the premium that the franchise places on team defense. Team defense helps win championships and has been integral to the 6 Lombardi trophies that reside in Pittsburgh. In that vein I thought I would provide a statistical snapshot of how each defense matches up.
We will start with the Steelers defensive unit, a unit close to many of our hearts. It’s my belief that after the defeat by the Patriots that the Steelers have tried to ratchet up there coverage skills and are having there cornerbacks playing more of a soft bump and run coverage. Coach LeBeau’s Defensive scheme is predicated on minimizing big plays in the back end on defense. To be truly effective just like any defense. Pressure is a key, unfortunately during the Patriots game the pressure was at a minimum and the patriots offense under Brady was able to carve up the Steelers. One of the favorite plays of opponents is to use crossing patterns. However since that game the Steelers coverage has improved. Also no one can minimize the impact that Troy Polomalu . Statistically the Steelers finished the regular season second in the NFL in defense. This was an improvement over the 2009 season where they finished a very solid 5th. The Steelers allowed 14.5 pts in the regular season. They finished first in the NFL with 48 sacks. They only allowed 62.8 yards running per game which was good for 1st in the NFL. The Steelers allowed 212.1 yards passing per game which was ranked 12th in the league. The Steelers were tied for 3rd in Passes defensed with 91. The Steelers ranked 4th in the NFL with 20 forced fumbles. The Steelers finished fifth in the NFL with 21 interceptions, of which 7 were intercepted by Troy. Overall the Steelers defense turned in an outstanding regular season. Now it is on to the big time, the playoffs where everything is magnified. If the Steelers are to capture another Lombardi, they will once again have to rely on there defense to come up with some big plays.
Baltimore has had a bit of a drop off defensively this year. While Ed Reed is still making big plays evidenced by his 8 interceptions. Baltimore has seen a dramatic drop in it’s sack totals. The Ravens finished the regular season ranked a very un-raven like 10th in the league. Compare this to last year when the Ravens finished 3rd in team defense. The Ravens finished 3rd in points per game at 16.9 The Ravens really struggled in the sack department ranking near the bottom of the league at 27 with only 27 sacks. The Ravens have also been susceptible to the run at times. For the season they gave up 93.9 yards per game on the ground and 224.9 yards through the air. The Ravens secondary has struggled mightily at times this year in coverage. However the Ravens do come in at number 9 in passes defensed with 83. The Ravens finished tied for 14th in the league with 12 forced fumbles. The Ravens come in at 9th in the league with 19 interceptions with Ed Reed picking off 8 of those. These stats indicate a defense that is still very good, but one that has struggled at times. If the Ravens are to have any shot at progressing through Kansas City they will have to rely upon the defense to make big plays.
Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs defense has improved steadily with the hiring of Rome Crennel. The Chiefs defense finished the season ranked 14th in the NFL. This is a dramatic improvement for the Chiefs considering they finished the 2009 season ranked 30th in league defensive totals. Kansas City finished 11th in the league giving up 20.4 points per game. The Chiefs on the year have allowed 330.2 yards per game. 219.9 through the air and 110.3 on the ground. The Chiefs rank 10th in Sacks with 39, 1st in passes defensed with 98, and 19th in interceptions with 14. The Chiefs come in at 8th with 15 forced fumbles. Overall the Chiefs have shown a dramatic improvement on the defensive side of the ball. They will need a strong defensive effort if they are to advance throughout the playoffs.
New York Jets
The Jets are brash and ballyhooed and in there own minds they have crowned themselves champions. However the Jets defense is not as good a unit as some have thought. For sure the injuries to Kris Jenkins and Darrelle Revis have taken their toll. But the unit as a whole has not been as solid this year. The Jets defense finished at number 1 last year in the NFL. This year they took a step back and finished a very respectable sixth. The decline can be measured in these stats. The Jets finished last year giving up 14.8 points per game. They finished this year giving up 19, about 4 more points a game. In 2009 the Jets Intercepted 17 balls, this year only 12. Antonio Cromartie has not been the shutdown corner that many had predicted. The Jets rank sixth with 87 passes defensed. The Jets rank 6th in forced fumbles with 17. Overall the Jets are giving up 291 yards a game with 200 coming through the air and 90.6 on the ground. Compare that with 2009 when the Jets allowed a mere 252 yards a game and it is plain to see that this is not the same Jets defense as last year. However the Jets still possess solid skill players and could make a run. But if they are to do that they will need a supreme effort from their defense.
Of all the playoff defenses this is perhaps the weakest and most vulnerable. Beset by injuries the Colts have really struggled this season and finished the season ranked 23rd in league defense. Yes Mathis and Freeney are still very skilled but this is one of the weaker Colts teams in years. The Colts are allowing an incredible 24.3 points per game and 341.6 yards per game. The Colts allow 214.0 yards through the air and an amazing 127.0 yards on the ground. The Colts also finished 23rd on the league in sacks with 30. The Colts rank 31st in the league with 55 passes defensed, only the Jaguars had fewer. The Colts rank 26th in the league with only 10 fumbles forced. They are also near the bottom in interceptions with 10 ranking 30th. Clearly this is a unit that has struggled and will have to come up with a very big performance if the Colts have any shot at moving through the playoffs.
New England Patriots
As much as it pains me to say it perhaps no coach does more with less than Bill Belichick. This defense has steadily improved all year long and finished the season ranked 8th in the league. Devin McCourty has played a pivotal role in the defense as a rookie intercepting 8 passes. Overall the Patriots are giving up 19.6 points per game and surrendering 366.5 yards per game. This defense is very much a bend but don’t break defense and relies on big plays to stop opponents. The Patriots are giving up a whopping 258.5 yards per game through the air and 108 via the run. The Patriots come in 14th in sacks with 36. The Patriots are ranked 16th in passes defensed with 79 They rank 22nd in forced fumbles with 11. The key to beating this offense is balance and it also helps if you can slow down their offense. However good the Patriots are they are beatable and this is clearly evident on the defensive side of the ball. If you neutralize the defense you can beat the Patriots.
The playoffs are arguably the best time of the year. it’s a chase for the greatest championship in all of sports. Playoff football means that the little things such as tackling are maximized in big games as are mistakes like fumbles and interceptions. Having an opportunity at a championship is a special thing. I hope you all enjoy this column and the championship chase. Talk to yinz next week. Go Steelers!!!!
You can follow Michael on Twitter @SteelersTide74