In case you haven’t noticed by now, the Pittsburgh Steelers defense has played very well as the team creeps closer to the midway point of their 2017 regular season. A few people who have noticed that have asked if there’s a chance that this year’s defense could potential rival the Steelers 2008 unit, which is easily referred to as the best one that head coach Mike Tomlin has ever had since arriving in 2007. The short answer to that question is yes, but with that said, the 2017 unit will still need to tighten up a little bit more in a few a few phases of their overall play over the course of their next nine games in order to possibly be considered the best one in the Tomlin era.
Below, I have a table of several key defensive stats through the first seven games played of both the 2008 and 2017 Steelers defenses that I like to use to compare units and I’m sure that none of them are new to any of you reading this post.
When looking at these different statistical categories you’ll notice that the Steelers 2017 defense is better than the 2008 defense when it comes to 3rd down conversion rates allowed, yards per pass attempt allowed, adjusted net yards per pass attempt allowed, and successful pass play rates allowed and that really is quite impressive.
The Steelers 2008 defense, however, allowed far less explosive plays of 20 yards or more and allowed a much lower yard per rush average through their first seven games of that regular season. That 2008 Steelers defense also registered one more sack than the 2017 defense through seven regular season games played and allowed slightly less points per game. However, for all practical purposes, the two defenses are on par with each other in those two statistical categories and both units registered 10 total turnovers through seven regular season games played as well. Additionally, the successful run play rate allowed by both units are very close.
Now, the 2017 Steelers defense being way behind the 2008 unit in average rushing yards per carry allowed is very easy to explain and all you need to do is look at the explosive plays allowed. The Steelers 2008 defense only allowed 11 plays of 20 yards or more in their first seven regular season games that year and all of them were pass plays. The 2017 Steelers defense, on the other hand, has allowed 20 plays of 20 yards or more through seven games played and 7 of those were runs that averaged 39.3 yards.
The fact that the 2017 Steelers defensive successful run play rate allowed is very much in line with that of the 2008 unit’s lets you know what a big part those 7 explosive runs have played in their yards per rush allowed average through seven games played.
In short, if the Steelers 2017 defense can start eliminating those explosive runs, their yards per rush average will fall. By the way, 6 of those 7 explosive runs happened during drives that ultimately culminated in touchdowns. In case you’re curious, the Steelers defense has allowed just 12 touchdowns all season.
Now, critics of the Steelers 2017 defense will point out that the unit hasn’t really faced a high amount of quality quarterbacks in their first seven games and that’s certainly understandable. However, if you’re going to knock the Steelers 2017 defense for that, you must knock the 2008 unit somewhat as well as that defense certainly didn’t face murderer’s row in their first seven games as you can see in the second table below.
The 2017 Steelers defense now has nine regular season games remaining and as we sit here in Week 8, they’re scheduled to play against quarterbacks Matthew Stafford, Jacoby Brissett, Marcus Mariota, Brett Hundley, Andy Dalton, Joe Flacco, Tom Brady, Deshaun Watson and DeShone Kizer. That list includes four very experienced names as well as one impressive rookie.
We’ll look back in on the Steelers 2017 defense and how they compare to the 2008 defense in several more weeks and maybe right ahead of the game against the New England Patriots.
In closing, no, it’s not unthinkable that the Steelers 2017 defense could perhaps wind up being the best one Tomlin has coached during his time in Pittsburgh. However, if this year’s Steelers team doesn’t win the Super Bowl this year, the comparisons between the two defensive units will end with only stats as opposed to the all-important hardware.
|Stat Category Through 7 Games Played||2008 Defense||2017 Defense|
|3rd Down Conversion Rate Allowed||35.3||33.7|
|Yards Per Rush Allowed||2.83||4.68|
|20+ Yard Plays Allowed||11||20|
|Defensive Points Allowed||14.1||14.7|
|Yards Per Pass Attempt Allowed||5.7||5.6|
|Adjusted Net Yards Per Pass Attempt||3.8||3.5|
|Successful Run Play Rate Allowed||33.5||35.3|
|Successful Pass Play Rate Allowed||40.1||38.8|
|Game||2008 QBs Faced||2017 Qbs Faced|
|1||Matt Schaub||DeShone Kizer|
|2||Derek Anderson||Case Keenum|
|3||Donovan McNabb||Mike Glennon|
|4||Joe Flacco||Joe Flacco|
|5||David Garrard||Blake Bortles|
|6||Ryan Fitzpatrick||Alex Smith|
|7||Eli Manning||Andy Dalton|