Steelers Backs Topped The League In Pass Protection In 2012

By Matthew Marczi

A couple days back, I wrote about the tough road ahead facing rookie running back Le’Veon Bell in terms of living up to the exceptional pass blocking performance turned in by the Pittsburgh Steelers running backs from a season ago.

In the article, I mentioned that I had not done a cross-comparison of all the teams in the league in terms of how their running backs fared in pass protection in 2012, but that I suspected the Steelers were among the best.

Well, I have now done that cross-comparison, and by the numbers, the Steelers backs did better than anybody else a season ago when it came to keeping their quarterback clean, and Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer hold highest honors for their efforts. As I wrote before, Redman and Dwyer finished first and second in the league at their position in terms of pass blocking efficiency.

Using the numbers charted by Pro Football Focus, I was able to compile the data below by isolating each group of running backs by team and cataloging their numbers, allowing me to present them as a whole.

As you can see in the table, the Steelers had an excellent season in pass protection from their running backs. As a unit, they gave up just six hurries while allowing no sacks or hits on Ben Roethlisberger in 185 combined snaps in pass protection.

That made for a stellar 96.76 percent success rate, with the closest contender being the Green Bay Packers, whose backs found success at a rate of 96.24 percent. If we utilize the handy Pass Blocking Efficiency metric that Pro Football Focus instituted, which takes into account the lesser impact of hits and hurries by weighing them less harshly than sacks, the distance between the  two is just a pinch (and I do mean a pinch) greater. The Steelers’ PBE number comes out to 97.57, while the Packers earn a score of 97.04.

But what else can we glean from these numbers? For starters, it turns out the Steelers were just one of three teams whose backs did not forfeit a sack on the year, while they were in fact the only team to not even surrender a hit. Only the New England Patriots and the Denver Broncos tied the Steelers’ six total pressures; however, the Broncos’ figures include three sacks, and in 35 fewer snaps, while the Patriots backs gave up a sack and four hits on 45 fewer snaps.

In terms of usage, the Steelers, it turns out, utilized their running backs (including fullbacks) in passing situations a fair bit more often than the average, which was just under 700 total snaps. The Steelers backs were in on 751 passing plays. In terms of how often they were asked to pass protect, however, it was actually slightly below average.

League-wide, backs in on passing plays were asked to pass protect 26.38 percent of the time. The Steelers only asked of their backs to protect the quarterback 24.63 percent of the time. In contrast, the Arizona Cardinals and the Indianapolis Colts—ironically two of the teams with the least productive backfield in pass protection—utilized their running backs to pass protect considerably more. Of course, both teams also had among the worst offensive lines from a season ago as well.

Interestingly, however, the total number of pass protection snaps the Steelers backs played in 2012 was almost dead center on the average, which came in at 184.5 snaps. How will that differ in year two of Todd Haley’s offense, with a remade backfield?

Since divisional play is often so important, perhaps it would also be interesting to take a look at how the Baltimore Ravens, Cleveland Browns, and Cincinnati Bengals fared in this category.

As it turns out, all three of them performed below the league average. The average success rate around the league was 92.38 percent, while the average Pass Blocking Efficiency rating came in at 93.94.

The Ravens mustered a success rate of just 90.58 percent, with a PBE of 92.38. The Browns fared worse in terms of success rate, coming in at 90.40. However, because they surrendered less sacks, their PBE was slightly better at 92.42. As for the Bengals, they came closest to the average at 92.02 and 93.56.

Unfortunately for the rest of the AFC North, the Steelers did their part in raising the league standard in running back pass blocking efficiency in 2012, a factor in the game often overlooked.

TeamPassBlockBlock %SacksHitsHurrTotalSucc RatePBE
Arizona Cardinals68824435.4743172490.1692.21
Atlanta Falcons80321426.6512101393.9395.33
Baltimore Ravens76622329.1155112190.5892.38
Buffalo Bills68814821.512551291.8993.58
Carolina Panthers62817728.1811111392.6694.35
Chicago Bears62821834.7132121792.2093.81
Cincinnati Bengals59816327.263461392.0293.56
Cleveland Browns76019826.0536101990.4092.42
Dallas Cowboys75022129.473361294.5795.59
Denver Broncos60015025.00303696.0096.50
Detroit Lions73413818.80025794.9396.20
Green Bay Packers59518631.26115796.2497.04
Houston Texans81714217.380571291.5593.66
Indianapolis Colts62625140.1035162490.4492.53
Jacksonville Jaguars77125633.205571793.3694.53
Kansas City Chiefs61613822.405271489.8691.49
Miami Dolphins63315724.8031121689.8191.88
Minnesota Vikings74623030.8341111693.0494.35
New England Patriots66410816.27141694.4495.60
New Orleans Saints86814016.133491688.5790.89
New York Giants70925736.254531295.3396.11
New York Jets61419932.414191492.9694.22
Oakland Raiders93416717.8825101789.8292.07
Philadelphia Eagles81725531.2127132291.3793.33
Pittsburgh Steelers75118524.63006696.7697.57
San Diego Chargers67814321.091481390.9193.01
San Francisco 49ers68719628.5332152089.8091.96
Seattle Seahawks52113225.341371191.6793.56
St. Louis Rams65312418.9913111587.9090.73
Tampa Bay Buccaneers76622429.243461394.2095.31
Tennessee Titans69417525.224371492.0093.43
Washington Redskins58214424.74233894.4495.49
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