Don\’t Forsake The Steelers 2011 Defense Because Of Lack Of Turnovers Or Sacks

I have tracked the TOX stat all season long as it relates to wins and losses every week in the NFL as I love the stat. Half of that stat revolves around explosive plays, plays of 20 yards or more, and the ability of teams in the NFL to not only create them on offense, but not allow them on defense.

Many have criticized the Steelers run defense all year long, especially how it relates to allowing explosive runs this year. The defense allowed just 1 run last year of 20 yards or more and this year they have allowed 7. That might seem like a big deal, but it really isn\’t when you factor in that their pass defense has allowed 3 less explosive plays than last year. In a word, the defense has allowed just 3 more explosive plays than last season.

Breaking it down further, 11 of the 39 explosive plays allowed this year came in the first 4 games in the season. 6 against the Baltimore Ravens in week 1, 2 against the Indianapolis Colts in week 3 and 3 against the Houston Texans in week 4. 4 of the 7 allowed runs of 20 yards or more came weeks 1 & 4 in addition. So since week 4 the Steelers defense has allowed just 28 explosive plays in total and just 3 runs of 20 yards or more. If not for the dreadful first game against the Ravens, this year\’s defense would be right in-line with the 2010 unit as it relates to explosive plays allowed.

Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau also will point to the most important stat for a defense, points allowed. Through 15 games the defense has surrendered 218 points. The 2010 defense surrendered 232. Once again, right in line. The biggest drop-off this year of course is the takeaways and sacks, 14 this year as opposed to 35 last season turnover wise, and 33 sacks this year compared to 48 last year.

LeBeau was asked about both of these stats on Thursday and said, “We\’re aware of where we are in that situation. Really turnovers, sacks, they vary again from play to play, from game to game, from year to year. I wish we had more turnovers and we have certainly talked about it. For whatever reason we didn\’t have that many this year, but we still have a lot of football left to play. I think more importantly is pressure on the quarterback, overall coverage, pressure on the receivers and our numbers there are very good. We\’ll always strive to be number one in everything, but we\’re not going to overlook our blessings on total defense. Like I was saying earlier, you can always pick out a category, except I think about three years ago we led everything in everything, and I said at the time, that just doesn\’t happen and that won\’t happen again. for whatever reason it happened that year. I think we can get better, I hope we can get better, we need to get better, but I am not forsaking my blessings on where we are in a lot of categories.”

Turning our attention now to the Steelers week 17 opponent, the Cleveland Browns, they would kill to be where the Steelers are in several defensive stat categories. Sure they sit tied for second in the league with just 2,760 passing yards allowed, but that stat is very deceiving as they have allowed 2,198 yards rushing through 15 games and ranked 30th in the league in that category. The Browns defense has also allowed 57 explosive plays this year, 18 more than the Steelers. The Browns offense has produced a league low 35 explosive plays this year on top of everything else, 32 less than the Steelers offense. Their explosive differential is a god awful -22. The Steelers lead the league with a +28 differential. These two teams are totally on the opposite ends of the spectrum as you can plainly see.

Enough about the Browns. There is no real explanation as to why the turnovers are down this year, but injuries to the linebacking corps would likely be the most obvious thing to point to as right outside linebacker James Harrison has missed 5 games this year, 4 due to injury and 1 due to suspension, and left outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley has missed 5 games as well. In addition, inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons was forced to play outside quite a bit and Jason Worilds is still developing. The starting unit has only played together in 5 of the Steelers 15 games thus far. Throw in a few interception drops this year by the secondary and you might have your answer.

The defense should be near 100% by the time the playoffs start as Woodley will likely sit out again on Sunday against the Browns. If he is even close to being the same player he was before he went down with the hamstring injury, the pressure and sack should improve and a few more turnovers should come along with that as a byproduct.

In closing, stop worrying about the defense and them allowing a few more explosive runs this year and the lack of turnovers and sacks. The playoffs are an entirely different season and the defense is poised to carry this team back to the Super Bowl in Indianapolis. As LeBeau said, don\’t forsake the blessings and play of the overall defense this year.

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