PFF Ranks Steelers’ Front Seven 16th In NFL

The Pittsburgh Steelers were able to reach the AFC Championship game last season for the first time in six years. It was a significant achievement that validates all of the strides that they have made since then in reloading their roster on both sides of the ball.

But it’s probably obvious to just about anyone who regularly watches the team that there is still some work to do, especially on the defensive side of the ball, even if it largely consists of the necessary and expected internal growth from some key young players. That more or less comes with the territory with three rookies starting.

Pro Football Focus has been spending time working on season wrap-up content, as have we all, but one article that caught my eye was a ranking of all the front sevens in the league. The Steelers placed 16th in their list, which was actually the highest ranking    in the division, one spot better than the Ravens.

Author Michael Renner actually begins his analysis of the Steelers’ front seven pretty astutely, writing, “if one could summarize the Steelers’ front seven in two words, they would be missed tackle”. Pittsburgh has really slid in its tackling efficiency over the course of the past five seasons, and is a major issue that still needs to be cleaned up.

“They have the talent to play much better than the 16th-best front seven any given week”, Renner goes on to write, “but they struggle mightily finishing plays at times”. That is an analysis that I do not expect will see many contrarian arguments posed against it here and there shouldn’t be, as they have lacked the finishing instinct too many times.

Ryan Shazier’s 21 missed tackles were the fourth-most among linebackers”, he wrote, though this is a phenomenon that we have already been aware of. The high number can be partially attributed to his quickness in getting into the backfield, but that only partly accounts for his misses. Aside from health, this is clearly the biggest issue holding him back.

Renner also writes that Stephon Tuitt had a “ridiculous” 12 missed tackles, which were the most among interior defensive linemen in their reckoning. I noted in an article last week I believe that Tuitt has some cleaning up to do with the missed tackles, though I didn’t anticipate that it would be the most in the league.

The article finishes predictably in lavishing praise on the 38-year-old James Harrison and how he remains the Steelers’ most effective defender. His overall grade of 86.7 was the highest any Steelers front-seven defender was given. Lawrence Timmmons’ detractors can seize upon the fact that the site gave him at 46.4 grade.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

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

  • Ike Evans

    Preach….dont draft guys with that reputation as a “closer” (except senquez, ironically)…then had the nerve to take sean davis who had the most missed tackles of any db comin out of college….davis played really well but didn’t help the missed tackle issue ….which was not a surprise

  • Douglas Andrews

    Wouldn’t have expected Timmons to be rated so low. Bud’s gonna be better next year and also A healthy Heyward plus some better tackling and this front 7 jumps into the top 10?

  • Nolrog

    That’s because the art of wrapping a guy up is a think of a the past. Now you just hit him and hope he goes down.

  • Nolrog

    Not until they can put pressure on the QB reliably.

  • RickM

    Not sure where Renner is coming up the the 46.4 rating for Timmons lol. NO player would ever be on the field with that seasonal rating. Just checked some of our toughest games – Baltimore (game 1), Miami (playoffs), the Giants, N.E. (playoffs) and he was rated at 86, 84.5, 80 and 80. The chances of him being at 46.4 for the season are zero. My guess is he was around 70, but someone with a full membership can provide the correct numbers for our LB’s.

    As for Tuitt, the playoffs are a great example of why the guy might miss more tackles. He played 181 of 184 snaps which is over 98%. And he routinely played over 90% with Heyward out so much. You’re going to miss more tackles from fatigue.

  • mem359

    The Steelers seem to do that a lot more than the teams they play (bump instead of engulf). They also seem to forget about the stiff-arm (done to them on defense, not used by offense).

    I can only guess that either the coaches are encouraging the players to do that (praise for the big hit), or they aren’t doing enough to discourage it (other than “we need to do better on tackling”).

  • Steelers12

    arm tackles gotta go

  • Dan

    It doesn’t take PFF to see that the missed tackles are a significant problem. There is a lot of young talent on this defense, but there’s still lots of coaching to be done. Let’s hope that they do it.

  • blackandgoldBullion

    BEen saying this for years. After fighting off a double team good luck trying to chase down a RB when your coach gives you no rest. It would be like a heavyweight being asked to BE a well

  • RickM

    Yes, the constant double teams add to the fatigue/missed tackles as well as the snap count.

    In my opinion, his whole analysis makes no sense, Zachary Orr had a standout season for Baltimore before his unfortunate retirement. He has him lowest rated for Baltimore at 42.7. Star Lotulelei is in the 40’s. I have no idea where the guy is getting his numbers from.

  • Shane Mitchell

    True, but to put it in perspective with our current players at safety and linebacker, IIRC Troy’s worst season for missed tackles was 14, usually he was in single digits or around 12 for an entire season, we have an entire defense full of guys missing 20 plus tackles a year, its unacceptable, none of these guys are making Troy like big plays to warrant it. A big play is one of them actually making an open field tackle 10 yards down the field.

  • Shane Mitchell

    Yep, too many fast fetchers.not enough real football players, it takes a football player to make plays, fetchers just run after the ball all excited after they see it thrown, and maybe overrun it a few times before they can get the ball in their mouth. Thats what our defense reminds me of a bunch of fast dogs chasing after a ball or frisbee.

  • Rusted Out

    Outstanding point! A bit of leeway is given to a big playmaker like Shazier, because we know he probably penetrated the line and blew up a play in the backfield. Unfortunately, he is about the only one who deserves it. The tackling as a whole this year was atrocious, but it seemed to better than the last two years.

  • Matthew Marczi

    To be fair to the author, the ratings provided are the overall site’s season grades for the players, not his personal grades, so PFF as a whole is to be praised or blamed for the accuracy of the player grades. I think I’m pretty much on the record for believing Timmons deserves a considerably better grade than the one they gave him for this year.

  • Matthew Marczi

    Shazier is the closest thing to that and he’s still missing an unjustifiable number of tackles.

  • Douglas Andrews

    No doubt they need to be able to pressure the QB. The D line needs to generate more pressure and having Cam back helps tremendously. OLB is a position we’ll just have to wait and see what the Steelers decide to do. Maybe help in FA and or draft pics. Whatever they decide on the Defense needs a combination of pass rush generated from the D Line and OLB’s

  • RickM

    So what is the difference between “overall season grade for a player” and “player’s personal grade’. They are one and the same. I can’t give you, for example, 4 A’s, 5 B’s, 4 C’s and 2 D’s and 1 F in the 16 games and then say that your seasonal grade was an F. That contradicts every game that I previously graded you on.

    We’re being asked to believe: that a guy who was graded in the mid-40’s suddenly exploded in the playoffs with 84 and 80 ratings; b) that the Steelers played a guy every D snap who was grading out at 46; and c) that Harrison’s performance was 42 points higher. None of those are even conceivable. His grades makes no sense, and they contradict the very grades cited on the site. I guarantee you – guarantee – that if you look at the Top 5 D ratings after every game, there is no way James is at 86.

  • Matthew Marczi

    I meant the author’s personal grade on the player. The opinion of the author on Timmons’ performance isn’t necessarily reflective of the site’s overall grade on him. The author didn’t mention Timmons at all actually. They just present the highest- and lowest-graded players from every team as a point of reference. Either way, I disagree with the site’s grade for him.

  • RickM

    Just my last comment/opinion. I like fact-based stuff, or at the very least well-explained stuff. His own company graded each D player for each game, and I assume that included pass rush, run stoppage and pass coverage. He can take the 16-game averages and simply present them – highest and lowest. I’m not sure why he would do anything else frankly.

    Instead, he says ‘we relied heavily on the season’s gradings’ and then he appears to have arbitrarily assigned sensational ratings. I don’t care if it’s Timmons, Orr, Lotulelei, or any of the guys ranked lowest. It’s just bad journalism if he has significantly deviated from his company’s own averages and not explained why. And that’s at the high and low ends. Thanks for the chat.

  • Wil Masisak

    I rank ProFootball Focus as last in the league.

  • Steve

    With Jarvis, Heyward gone and Timmons on the right, this is the reason teams attacked our right side.

  • Steve

    Arm tackles have never worked in the NFL. Shazier and Mitchell need to wrap up with shoulder tackles.

  • Steve

    With you Bullion on the resemblance of Troy and Shazier. Troy was great at wrapping players up. Ryan need to learn and watch more film of his missed tackles.

  • Steve

    Go back and look at the low number for Clay Matthews – 44.6

  • Douglas Andrews

    Timmons doesn’t play on the right side he plays on the strong side of the defense and he plays the run pretty well. Jarvis also plays the run pretty solid minus the one missed gap against the Cowboys

  • Steve

    Your kidding yourself if you think Jarvis plays well against the run. They run around his end ever time because he don’t set the edge. Why do you think Jones was sitting the bench last year? Surly wasn’t for his solid run play as you say. Timmons was the lowest PFF ranked player with the Steelers. Shazier had many missed tackles. This cannot continue and needs to stop.

  • Douglas Andrews

    Jarvis sets the edge he just doesn’t pressure the passer as evidenced by his lack of sacks.

  • Steve

    Baloney – Go back and watch some film.

  • Douglas Andrews

    Sure I’ll be glad too can you provide a specific game or play?