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Steelers Defensive Sacks & Turnovers Unlikely To Improve Until Offense Starts Scoring


The Pittsburgh Steelers lack of defensive sacks and turnovers through their first three games of the 2013 season is certainly alarming, but when you consider how often they have been behind on the scoreboard this year, it’s probably not too surprising when you look stats dating back to 2004.

Over the coarse of the last nine seasons and three games, Steeler defenses have only been on the field for 1,064 plays when trailing by seven or more points on the scoreboard, according to Pro Football Reference. The New England Patriots are the only other team with a lower defensive play count with that kind of score differential over that span of time.

During those 1,064 plays, Steeler defenses have only registered 18 turnovers which computes to a 1.69 turnover percentage. Also during those same 1,064 plays, those defenses have registered just 32 sacks (3.01%).

*A note about the nine interceptions. Three of them came against the Ravens in the December 2006 game thanks to Steve McNair. In fact, 8 of the 18 turnovers came against the Ravens. In addition, 14 of the 32 sacks also came against the Ravens. If you eliminate all 332 plays against the Ravens, the Steelers turnover percentage on the rest of the plays is 1.37% and the sack percentage is 2.46%.

When trailing by ten or more points dating back to 2004, Steeler defenses have registered just nine turnovers and nine sacks in a league low 472 plays. That equates to either one sack or one turnover every 26.2 defensive plays while behind that far on the scoreboard. So far this season, the defense has two sacks in 63 plays ran against them while being down ten or more points.

The defense run by Dick LeBeau, like most defenses, is usually at its best when ahead seven or more points on scoreboard as it generally makes offenses a bit more predictable as far as their play calling goes. When a game is close or the Steelers are behind, LeBeau generally stays on the conservative side with his play calling for the most part unless the right down and distance presents an opportunity to dial things up.

Being as LeBeau likes to generally play more zone underneath in an attempt to not give up the big play, offenses for the most part have learned over the years to take what is given them while leading or in close games in an attempt to not make bad decisions with the football. Opposing offenses have also been good at keeping an even run/pass balance against the Steelers in those situations as the stats below will show you.

While the 2013 version of Steelers defense has been good about getting off the field on third downs this year when down seven or more points (29.6%), they are doing so without making splash plays. Opponents have only thrown the ball in those instances 16 times out of 27 third down plays and only have a 43.8% completion ratio to show for it.

Just how important is having a 10 point or more lead for a LeBeau led defense when it comes to getting sacks and turnovers? Dating back to 2004, 35% of the total sacks and defensive turnovers registered during that span of time have come with the Steelers ahead by 10 or more points. There are only three other teams during that span of time with percentage greater than that.

While opponents have scored 76 points against the Steelers so far this season, 36 have come off of turnovers by the offense with 13 of those being scored by the opposing defense.

If the Steelers offense does not start giving the defense some leads in games, you can probably expect more of the same as far as lack of sacks and turnovers go moving forward unless LeBeau starts gambling more with his play calling while behind. Gambling more, however, could lead to the defense not only giving up more explosive plays, but more points as well.

You’ve probably heard the phrase “the best offense is a good defense” before and in the case of the Steelers that couldn’t be more true.

2004-2013 Sack & Turnover Defensive Stats With Defense Down 7 Or More Points

TEAM GMS PLYS YTG YDS INT FUM TO% SACKS SACK% PASS RUN SACK+TO%
CHI 70 1830 8.77 4.65 24 22 2.51% 35 1.91% 839 991 4.43%
CAR 75 2135 8.52 4.56 29 22 2.39% 54 2.53% 925 1210 4.92%
CLE 90 2653 8.34 5.24 34 22 2.11% 56 2.11% 1068 1585 4.22%
GNB 55 1186 8.46 5.07 15 9 2.02% 27 2.28% 519 667 4.30%
DET 92 2875 8.57 5.32 22 36 2.02% 76 2.64% 1308 1567 4.66%
CIN 76 1745 8.48 4.88 20 15 2.01% 40 2.29% 761 984 4.30%
NYJ 66 1983 8.47 4.7 23 16 1.97% 56 2.82% 852 1131 4.79%
SEA 77 2193 8.4 5.56 29 14 1.96% 38 1.73% 1078 1115 3.69%
ARI 88 2733 8.77 4.99 29 24 1.94% 74 2.71% 1185 1548 4.65%
TAM 90 2424 8.44 5.25 33 14 1.94% 53 2.19% 1055 1369 4.13%
KAN 81 2351 8.42 5.18 21 24 1.91% 47 2.00% 959 1392 3.91%
BAL 55 1287 8.72 4.86 13 11 1.86% 40 3.11% 557 730 4.97%
PHI 70 1779 8.77 4.96 20 13 1.85% 41 2.30% 775 1004 4.16%
OAK 93 3027 8.48 5.29 31 25 1.85% 69 2.28% 1188 1839 4.13%
NWE 38 872 8.46 5.57 9 7 1.83% 18 2.06% 385 487 3.90%
DAL 71 1639 8.35 5.23 16 14 1.83% 62 3.78% 773 866 5.61%
WAS 79 1990 8.55 4.98 19 17 1.81% 54 2.71% 954 1036 4.52%
DEN 70 1827 8.56 5.32 20 12 1.75% 46 2.52% 771 1056 4.27%
ATL 64 1665 8.46 5.13 20 9 1.74% 43 2.58% 759 906 4.32%
PIT 54 1064 9.01 4.15 9 9 1.69% 32 3.01% 493 571 4.70%
TEN 75 2337 8.31 5.42 18 21 1.67% 50 2.14% 1060 1277 3.81%
IND 58 1443 8.32 5.45 14 10 1.66% 36 2.49% 632 811 4.16%
JAX 79 2332 8.55 5.12 22 15 1.59% 65 2.79% 1047 1285 4.37%
SFO 85 2586 8.42 5.04 19 22 1.59% 60 2.32% 1197 1389 3.91%
MIN 74 1945 8.74 4.77 16 14 1.54% 65 3.34% 932 1013 4.88%
MIA 77 2069 8.46 4.91 14 17 1.50% 58 2.80% 872 1197 4.30%
SDG 54 1369 8.44 5.08 10 10 1.46% 38 2.78% 637 732 4.24%
BUF 83 2406 8.43 5.18 18 17 1.45% 59 2.45% 1051 1355 3.91%
STL 96 2960 8.6 5.4 25 17 1.42% 68 2.30% 1326 1634 3.72%
NYG 67 1786 8.45 5.28 11 13 1.34% 37 2.07% 746 1040 3.42%
HOU 81 2188 8.55 5.31 16 12 1.28% 57 2.61% 1042 1146 3.88%
NOR 73 1908 8.5 5.38 9 13 1.15% 47 2.46% 847 1061 3.62%

 

2004-2013 Sack & Turnover Defensive Stats With Defense Down 10 Or More Points

TEAM GMS PLYS YTG YDS INT FUM TO% SACKS SACK% PASS RUN SACK+TO%
CAR 56 1364 8.53 4.34 18 13 2.27% 26 1.91% 554 810 4.18%
CIN 53 985 8.52 4.81 10 12 2.23% 22 2.23% 415 570 4.47%
CHI 52 1133 8.71 4.66 14 11 2.21% 18 1.59% 487 646 3.80%
NYJ 53 1181 8.48 4.52 15 10 2.12% 31 2.62% 478 703 4.74%
DET 79 2001 8.53 5.1 13 29 2.10% 55 2.75% 838 1163 4.85%
SEA 56 1442 8.31 5.51 19 11 2.08% 28 1.94% 683 759 4.02%
CLE 69 1805 8.33 5.11 24 13 2.05% 40 2.22% 670 1135 4.27%
PIT 27 472 9.07 3.89 5 4 1.91% 9 1.91% 205 267 3.81%
ATL 47 1050 8.35 4.93 13 7 1.90% 25 2.38% 451 599 4.29%
GNB 37 717 8.54 5.06 7 6 1.81% 14 1.95% 299 418 3.77%
KAN 64 1655 8.4 4.96 13 17 1.81% 31 1.87% 644 1011 3.69%
WAS 53 1273 8.56 5.16 14 9 1.81% 27 2.12% 612 661 3.93%
IND 43 898 8.15 5.38 11 5 1.78% 21 2.34% 380 518 4.12%
BAL 40 925 8.73 4.85 9 7 1.73% 28 3.03% 378 547 4.76%
SFO 65 1688 8.38 5 13 15 1.66% 35 2.07% 706 982 3.73%
BUF 66 1473 8.41 5.13 14 10 1.63% 37 2.51% 606 867 4.14%
ARI 66 1859 8.76 4.67 14 16 1.61% 45 2.42% 756 1103 4.03%
DEN 50 1303 8.49 5.33 12 9 1.61% 33 2.53% 522 781 4.14%
PHI 43 1067 8.71 4.97 10 7 1.59% 22 2.06% 423 644 3.66%
TAM 61 1533 8.51 5 17 7 1.57% 33 2.15% 635 898 3.72%
OAK 73 2031 8.49 5.33 20 11 1.53% 46 2.26% 745 1286 3.79%
MIA 60 1283 8.52 4.92 9 10 1.48% 34 2.65% 509 774 4.13%
JAX 58 1421 8.39 5.34 13 8 1.48% 31 2.18% 577 844 3.66%
TEN 55 1598 8.33 5.42 12 11 1.44% 29 1.81% 681 917 3.25%
DAL 45 909 8.24 5.18 5 8 1.43% 34 3.74% 397 512 5.17%
STL 78 2029 8.63 5.27 16 12 1.38% 41 2.02% 862 1167 3.40%
NWE 21 521 8.26 5.68 3 4 1.34% 10 1.92% 195 326 3.26%
HOU 58 1447 8.5 5.08 11 7 1.24% 33 2.28% 638 809 3.52%
SDG 37 730 8.55 5.09 4 5 1.23% 24 3.29% 342 388 4.52%
NOR 57 1147 8.72 4.82 8 6 1.22% 28 2.44% 462 685 3.66%
NYG 51 1216 8.41 5.26 7 6 1.07% 17 1.40% 456 760 2.47%
MIN 52 1291 8.59 4.72 7 6 1.01% 31 2.40% 575 716 3.41%

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About Dave Bryan

I am, I'm me. 40 something, retired and a life long Steelers fan.
  • Sabbie

    Great article! This is the truth. GET A DAMN LEAD STEELERS. 3-0 IS NOT GOOD ENOUGH.

  • Alexander Sebastian Heath

    Thank you! This is what I pointed out on other post. There is certain point where a quarterback will feel the pressure, last three quarterbacks we faced DID not encountered that.

  • Bob Loblaw

    Great article.

    No offense playing us is going to feel the mental pressure to perform if the Steelers never get a lead. Heck, just look at the silly mistakes our offense makes when they get behind.

  • Christopher Wilkes

    Cool, another thing we can blame on Haley.

  • chris ward

    Great article. That is some amazing stats.

  • Bob Loblaw

    Considering we’ve had a bad turnover ratio for going on three seasons now, probably not.

  • Shannon Stephenson

    I can understand that but just by sure luck you will get one here or there its just fluky IMO.

  • Christopher Wilkes

    sarcasm

  • Bob Loblaw

    Poe’s law strikes again.

  • Christopher Wilkes

    If I could’ve added a (dull) for rolling my eyes you would’ve understood lol.

  • Informed reader

    I drew a very different conclusion from this. For years, people have been saying the defense carries the team. Well, it seems the only time the defense can get a turnover is when the offense creates a big lead. Perhaps it is more accurate to say that the OFFENSE has been carrying the team. A turnover when you are up by 10 points is nice, but when you are LOSING is when you need turnovers the most. And our defense has not been doing their part in those situations.

    It seems Lebeau is just too conservative. This is a bit of a chicken or egg situation. Sure, the offense scoring more points would help the defense. But is is also obvious that the defense making even the occasional turnover would help the offense. Maybe LeBeau needs to change his philosophy on play calling a bit. It is not a fluke that we are the ONLY team in the NFL with no turnovers this season.

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