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