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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.

Team Pass Block Block % Sacks Hits Hurr Total Succ Rate PBE
Arizona Cardinals 688 244 35.47 4 3 17 24 90.16 92.21
Atlanta Falcons 803 214 26.65 1 2 10 13 93.93 95.33
Baltimore Ravens 766 223 29.11 5 5 11 21 90.58 92.38
Buffalo Bills 688 148 21.51 2 5 5 12 91.89 93.58
Carolina Panthers 628 177 28.18 1 1 11 13 92.66 94.35
Chicago Bears 628 218 34.71 3 2 12 17 92.20 93.81
Cincinnati Bengals 598 163 27.26 3 4 6 13 92.02 93.56
Cleveland Browns 760 198 26.05 3 6 10 19 90.40 92.42
Dallas Cowboys 750 221 29.47 3 3 6 12 94.57 95.59
Denver Broncos 600 150 25.00 3 0 3 6 96.00 96.50
Detroit Lions 734 138 18.80 0 2 5 7 94.93 96.20
Green Bay Packers 595 186 31.26 1 1 5 7 96.24 97.04
Houston Texans 817 142 17.38 0 5 7 12 91.55 93.66
Indianapolis Colts 626 251 40.10 3 5 16 24 90.44 92.53
Jacksonville Jaguars 771 256 33.20 5 5 7 17 93.36 94.53
Kansas City Chiefs 616 138 22.40 5 2 7 14 89.86 91.49
Miami Dolphins 633 157 24.80 3 1 12 16 89.81 91.88
Minnesota Vikings 746 230 30.83 4 1 11 16 93.04 94.35
New England Patriots 664 108 16.27 1 4 1 6 94.44 95.60
New Orleans Saints 868 140 16.13 3 4 9 16 88.57 90.89
New York Giants 709 257 36.25 4 5 3 12 95.33 96.11
New York Jets 614 199 32.41 4 1 9 14 92.96 94.22
Oakland Raiders 934 167 17.88 2 5 10 17 89.82 92.07
Philadelphia Eagles 817 255 31.21 2 7 13 22 91.37 93.33
Pittsburgh Steelers 751 185 24.63 0 0 6 6 96.76 97.57
San Diego Chargers 678 143 21.09 1 4 8 13 90.91 93.01
San Francisco 49ers 687 196 28.53 3 2 15 20 89.80 91.96
Seattle Seahawks 521 132 25.34 1 3 7 11 91.67 93.56
St. Louis Rams 653 124 18.99 1 3 11 15 87.90 90.73
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 766 224 29.24 3 4 6 13 94.20 95.31
Tennessee Titans 694 175 25.22 4 3 7 14 92.00 93.43
Washington Redskins 582 144 24.74 2 3 3 8 94.44 95.49
Average 699.5 184.5 26.38 2.5 3.16 8.41 14.06 92.38 93.94

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About Matthew Marczi

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.
  • steeltown

    Just another reason I would keep both guys this season, we are not in cap hell and injuries can change the starting lineup on a weekly basis. At the end of the year whomever stayed healthy and had the best production gets an extension

  • Shea Fahr

    agreed..

  • Steeler Wheeler

    Not surprising at all. Considering the state of the O-Line the last couple of years, the Steelers backs get plenty of practice.

  • steeltown

    zing!

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