Steelers Defense Ranked 19th By Pro Football Focus

For as much growth as the Pittsburgh Steelers defense has experienced over the course of the season—and since last season—there is no questioning the fact that there is still a long way to go before they could be fairly described as anything approaching an elite unit.

Perplexingly, they actually remain the most efficient team in the league against the pass, allowing just 153.5 yards per game, and their 5.7 yards per pass attempt allowed is tied for the second-best—behind the Bengals’ 5.6, their next opponent.

Only one team in the league, the Bills, have allowed fewer passing touchdowns than their four, though their five interceptions on the season place them squarely in the middle of the pack. Their 20 sacks share a three-way tie for second-most behind the Jaguars’ 23, and their 72.2 quarterback rating allowed is fifth-best.

Sure. Fifth-best. But against whom? DeShone Kizer in his first-ever start, Case Keenum, a backup, in his first start with a new team, Mike Glennon, who has already been benched, Joe Flacco, who has been spectacularly bad with the second-worst quarterback rating in the league, Blake Bortles, who is Blake Bortles—and finally, an actually good quarterback, admittedly, in Alex Smith. Did I really just write that about Smith? Boy, times have changed.

The point is, the passing numbers may look good, but they’re not going to stay that way when they have to face some tougher opponents. And part of the reason that they look as good as they do is because they have been taken advantage of more often than not on the ground.

Which is why it’s not particularly surprising that Pro Football Focus ranked the Steelers’ defense 19th in the league through the first six games of the season, noting the performance of veteran Cameron Heyward as the highlight to date of their unit.

“The Pittsburgh defense is an enigma”, the Steelers’ entry begins. It talked about the fact that “no team runs man coverage less than Pittsburgh, and in fact they are not even close to the next team in terms of how little they do it”.

They were perplexed by the fact that “their best pass-rusher is likely still James Harrison, who has been kept in a padded box on the sideline for much of the season ready for deployment in times of need, and has just 22 defensive snaps so far”.

They did credit the fact that “Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt up front form an imposing duo on the front line”, though I would throw Javon Hargrave in there as well. It is interesting that there was no mention at all of the secondary, but one can argue that they have yet to be seriously tested. I will be curious to check on this update at the end of the year to see how things have shifted.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi
Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.
  • falconsaftey43

    This defense has done exceptionally well at what a defense is actually supposed to do, stop teams from scoring. My favorite way to breakdown offense and defense is to look at per drive averages.

    They’ve held teams to scoring on only 25% of drives (1st).
    Drives last on average 5.4 plays (6th) and 23.8 yards (3rd).
    They allow on average 1.34 points per drive (2nd).
    This is made all the more impressive by the fact that their opponents have the 11th best starting field position (due to poor ST and offensive turnovers).

    I believe the run game issues were due largely to the D getting tired from being out there so much, D pressing to make a play since the offense was doing nothing, just over exposure.

    Sure they haven’t faced too many great offenses, but they’ve done an excellent job overall.

  • Michael James

    That’s laughable. Sometimes you actually think a bunch of monkeys makes their rankings. There’s no way there are 18 better defenses in the NFL this season. Every single stat shows that this defense is at least top 10 so far. They are actually the biggest reason we have 4 wins.

  • Beaver Falls Hosiery

    Shutout the Bengals; get 3-4 interceptions with like number of sacks along with at least one fumble recovery should push them up in the defensive rankings.

  • JT

    % of scoring drives is the most shocking to me. We’re used to the “bending” of the defense leading to at least a lot of field goal drives.

  • falconsaftey43

    Really, my only complaint is they’ve allowed too many redzone TDs.

  • dillon degroot

    I never understood the usage of yards allowed as the measuring stick for good defenses…I don’t care about yards, I care about points..If we allow 500 yards passing in a game, but only allow 14 points,it was a good day. Points matter a hell of a lot more than yards.

  • SkoolHouseRoxx

    When our run defense runs like it should I feel we have a top 5 defense.

  • PaeperCup

    That’s dumb. They’ve looked pretty darn good against lesser opponents. You can’t hold them account for who they played against.

    The #1 defense, the Vikings….didn’t the Steelers *admittingly* struggling offense do well against them?

    They aren’t perfect, but I think you gotta put them in the top half. The offense has done jack, the defense has kept them in games, and they are 4-2.

  • thomas hmmmm

    Even against those QB’s you have to admit that it is an improvememt because the last few years those qbs would have and some of them did carve up the D.

  • razaard2

    A lot of the “run game issues” come from the bears overtime (which should never have happened if the offense was slightly competent that day) and the fournette garbage time run (and it shouldn’t be garbage time if Ben hadn’t thrown 5 ints). That’s around 150 yards of extra run yards that, of course, are a defensive responsibility, but only happened because the offense was terrible and the d was tired

  • razaard2

    And they did what they had to do for us to get the other 2… Okay not so much in overtime against the bears, but regular time points came from ST and turnovers, not Defensive flops. Same against jaguars and the 5 ints

  • razaard2

    As far as I know the PFF grades are supposed to consider only production. It doesn’t factor in the opponent or its quality. So there is absolutely no explanation for the Steelers at 19

  • SkoolHouseRoxx

    I will say this defense needs to turn turnovers into points themselves. We have the playmakers; It’s time to do it!

  • JT

    True. Only real step back from last season.

  • Stephen

    Good job with the post

  • J.

    As much as Steelers fans are taking offense at this it is true we haven’t really faced anybody but the chiefs and we have had their number of late. The Browns rank 31st in points per game, the Vikings 19th, the Bears 28th, and the Ravens 24th. The Jags do rank 8th but when you consider 74 points of their 156 came in 2 games they are not that consistent. The Chiefs are the only real offense they have faced and they did a good job of shutting down a team they have owned of late. Now over the next two weeks they face the Bengals who are averaging 25 points a game since firing their OC and the Lions who rank 7th they shut both those teams down and it will go a long way toward legitimizing a higher ranking. The biggest test of course will come week 15 vs the Pats because that will be a true test of has this defense improved enough to help us hoist number 7.

  • cencalsteeler

    Tony Romos broadcast was spot on and one of my concerns nobody has mentioned. He kept repeating that Smith needed to take the short passes that the Steelers give him because of the zone coverage. Once the 4th quarter rolled around, Smith started marching down the field similar to how Brady did in the AFC title game. I wonder if the Chiefs would’ve implemented this from the start, we woould have witnessed AFC title game part 2. Though the arrows pointing up with this D, I still am a little worried facing more cerebral teams. I don’t quite feel like were out of the woods yet on teams that want to dink and dunk us with a splash of hitting soft spots between safety and backer coverage.

  • charles

    The bad aroma of tackle the catch leaves the only way to victory is if O plays keep away as they did well against Chiefs and Browns. Bell and 179 yards is the D. Good opposing D limiting Steeler O and this D is terrible. Ravens reciever dropping easy TD and one extra possession by Brownies and this team could easily be 2-4. Here’s hoping Haden shackles Green, Shazier shadows Mixon (the best idea of Lebeau), more aggressive Dline on passing situations…

  • PaeperCup


  • Brenton deed

    Your post rings disturbingly true… I presume that their answer to last year’s AFC Championship game is improved pass rush.

  • Alan Tman

    This defenses only problems are the offense is underperforming, and was passing a lot while doing so. The other is it is not particularly stout up the middle and the participation can wane when not playing with a lead in the second half, but this defense is built to play with the lead. I really don’t care what anyone says if the offense perks up we will be very hard to beat.

  • Steve

    Find it ironic that 2 of the top 3 defences per PFF (Jags and Bears) beat the Steelers.

  • Steel Realist PAul

    I feel like they’ve been run on and run over a couple of times and the defense has yet to play really anybody at QB.

  • Steel Realist PAul

    Butler is doing a very good job of scheming to cover for the inadequacies of the defense.

    Fans are so funny. Choose to see what they want to see and miss what doesn’t fit their narrative.

    I don’t know where the Steelers D really is in terms of every team in the league, but they’re likely not a top ten defense today. Fans feel insulted for some reason when their team isn’t RANKED where they want them to be.

    Have you been watching? Did you see them get beat by Chicago and Jacksonville? Do you not see the opportunities that have been missed by other lesser QBs in other games? Burns running to the middle of the field leaving players wide open? No?

    It’s gonna take some time..

  • TrappenWeisseGuy ;

    Not getting Silverback out on the field a dozen times a game has been criminally stupid.

  • EdJHJr

    Looks like you were right