If Defense Still Wins Championships, Steelers Have The Edge At Top Spot

What is the line exactly that I’m so used to hearing around these parts? “Defense wins championships”? That is it, isn’t it? So then why aren’t we all happier about this season than we currently seem to be? Is the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offense worse than it was in 2008?

Let’s just make abundantly clear the fact that the Steelers currently rank second in the league in defensive points allowed. Through 10 games, the team has relinquished just 165 points in total, averaging 16.5 points per game. The only team that has allowed fewer points is the Jacksonville Jaguars, who have only allowed 141 points.

And if we are talking strictly the defensive performance, then there is a pretty big qualifier in there, given that Ben Roethlisberger has thrown two interceptions that were returned for touchdowns this season, so that is no knock against the defense. If you remove those 13 points—they missed a point-after try—then the defense has allowed 152 points this year, or 15.2 points per game.

The New England Patriots? They rank 13th, by the way, having allowed 203 points so far on the season, 20.3 points per game. The only other teams from the AFC in the top 10 aside from the Jaguars and Steelers are the Baltimore Ravens at three—who have shut out three bad teams—and the Chargers at eight.

It’s of course not just about points allowed—well, it is, but more nuance is useful. For example, the Steelers own the seventh-best time of possession mark this season (which, full disclosure, has really been a pain in the ass for me this year as the one responsible for the offensive charting).

A part of that equation is the fact that they have been one of the top five defenses in terms of getting off the field on third down, in spite of the fact that the offense has been very underwhelming in that category. They have also stopped 11 of 15 fourth-down attempts against them.

Opposing offenses are averaging just under 16 first downs per game, one of only three teams in the league to accomplish that, the other two being the Jaguars and the Carolina Panthers. The Patriots, in contrast, are allowing 22 per game with the eight-worst third-down defense.

The Steelers are one of six teams holding their opponents to fewer than five yards per play run. The Patriots are literally and comfortably the worst in this category, averaging 6.3 yards allowed per play, .3 yards more than anybody else.

Did I mention that they have the second-most sacks and interceptions, and have allowed the second-fewest passing touchdowns? Or that their run defense numbers have leveled off to something like the middle of the pack following a couple of ugly early-season games? Or that the Patriots are allowing a full five yards per rush, and 7.7 yards per pass? And have just 17 sacks?

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

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

  • Kevin artis

    We might be better than the Patriots statistically, but what levels it out is the consistent play at the quarterback position.

  • Lil Smitty

    I have funny feeling that the defenses stats are going to get better after the Green Bay game.
    It sure looks like Steelers/Patriots game will be for home field in the playoffs. The only way the Steelers will win the game is if the Defense stays disciplined and not let Brady bait them to move out of position.

  • falconsaftey43

    It’s simple, for a good portion of the fan base, the Patriots are the only thing that matters. Until the Steelers beat the Patriots, many won’t care what the team does. Many see the defensive performance in the Colts game as a poor one, unbelievable as that is. They see a couple of big TDs surrendered to a QB that’s not Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers, so they assume those QBs would consistently torch the Steelers. They put no stock in the 50 something other defensive plays in the that game, because, obviously, Tom Brady and the Patriots would not have been shut down that way.

    I’ve even heard more than one person lamenting about the performance against the Titans, and how it wasn’t good enough to beat the Patriots. “Brady would never throw 4 INTs” “Titans blew that game, Steelers didn’t win it”

    Some fans just can’t enjoy the ride.

  • PittShawnC

    Points allowed over the last 6 games:

    Steelers: 17.6
    Patriots: 12.5

    Take away our 6th game (Jax) and it’s 15.2 in our last five.

  • Dorian James

    No doubt!!! And the intelligence of their head coach. This isn’t a knock on Mike Tomlin but nobody prepares against other coordinators and coaches like Belicheat. Numbers won’t mean anything when we play them

  • Dorian James

    I kind of agree with you, but it’s kind of hard to enjoy the ride when you’re speeding towards the brick wall LMAO

  • Marcel Chris Chauvet

    The defense has been outstanding. I have no doubt that they are good ebough to win a Superbowl. They’ve consistently shown up throughout the season. If the offense can do their part, Pittsburgh has a great chance to hoist the Lombardi.

  • heath miller

    YEP THE pats D has really impoved during the season from giving up 30 a game early in he season ..

  • heath miller

    bottom line is we may have better players a 21 of the 22 positions .. but they will have the better QB and far better coach … and unfortunately that will probably be good enough to win ..

  • 太阳三联

    Let’s punch these fxckers right in the mouth. I’m done with them and it is our duty for Dan to slay these guys. Enough is enough.

  • NCSteel

    The defense has improved and I am certainly enjoying the season and the maturation process of young guys like Watt, Hilton, etc.
    However, there is no way I’m getting overly excited.
    The offense has been a middle of the road offense for most of the year, theres been contract problems, social media nonsense all starting off with QB retirement talk. Oh yea, the last time we saw Brady, he was carving up the defense like a Thanksgiving turkey. Ben has been…well… not vintage except for perhaps 5 or 6 quarters all year and I’m not sure we’ve seen enough man defense to say, oh yea, this monkey is off our backs. I love this team but I’ll remain cautiously optomistic, I still have the scars to show from last year.

  • Steel Realist PAul

    I think the Lions game showed everyone that a better passing offense can move up and down the field on the Steelers (400+ yds), so the basic thinking is that the Patriots would do the same.

  • Steel Realist PAul

    Not to repeat my post, but I think it was seeing the Lions move the ball at will and assessing that better teams would do better than the teams we’ve been seeing.

  • FATCAT716

    I think most of our fan base are down low patriot fans smh

  • FATCAT716

    I’m so excited man. I love this team. Are they perfect? No. Do they have issues? Yes.. But I believe in this group. If I’m disappointed at the end of the season so be it. But I’m invested whole heartedly 100%

  • falconsaftey43

    And the Lions scored how many points in that game? Oh yeah, it was 15. And their offense is no slouch. They are 5th in points scored for the season (Patriots are 4th). The fan base has a serious Patriots complex (not without reason, but still). The lions average 28.4 points in games not against the Steelers. The Patriots average 29.0. I get it, the Patriots have owned the Steelers, but with the kind of out look many fans have, why even bother to watch the Steelers play at all, after all they’re destined to lose to the Patriots and have no hope of winning a Super Bowl until Brady retires (please ignore the fact that they’ve been to 3 Super Bowls in the Brady era)?

  • FATCAT716

    We need a fan base that won’t soil there pants when they think about the patriots. It’s time we drop this fear of the patriots & look forward to playing them. Believe that we can win. Look back to just about every game we played them we have been banged up. No excuse or to take anything away from them but I just want to see us meet them with our guys out there not a bunch 2nd & 3rd strings

  • SkoolHouseRoxx

    Here here!

  • falconsaftey43

    Just so everyone knows, the Steelers are 4-1 against teams that currently have a winning record. KC, TEN, MIN, DET – JAX.

    Patriots are 2-2. NO, ATL – KC, CAR.

  • FATCAT716

    Greatly appreciated. We haven’t had a front like this in a long time not to mention a much improved secondary. Our offense is not depending on just AB in the passing game. Overall better team

  • Steel Realist PAul

    Sports are funny that way – the whole experience is entirely based on expectations for a given team. If the Steelers don’t go to the SB, it’s a let down, while the majority of the league is hoping to see their team find a way into the post season. We’re spoiled.

    That said, I don’t feel like the Steelers have looked like a SB team this year. Their record does. Many of the stats do too. But on both sides of the ball there seems to be something missing.

    I’m not talking about this last game obviously (which I couldn’t watch and have literally scoured the earth to find a source on unsuccessfully).

    Two or three games in a row where they outplay and handle the other team would feel a lot different. Like, well, what the patriots tend to do.

  • Steel Realist PAul

    C’mon now Fatcat. Thems fighting words man.

    See.. what the Patriots did was rob us of the honorable villain. It’s more fun when there’s a villain, but in the end, when you lose to an honorable villain, you can allow for the respect that comes from a well-played game.

    But when the villain cheats, they rob us of that as well. When they win, even coming back in historic fashion on the biggest stage on earth, we’re unable to enjoy or even admire that feat like we would a team whose accomplishments are attained under the same circumstances and rules as our favorite team plays under.

    No, this Patriots organization is in the same bucket for me as Goodell and the Bengals – they hurt the game of football.

  • Orlysteel

    Yeah we care what the team does , cause they need to get to the post season in order to get to the Super Bowl , but in the post season Brady awaits, how many title games have we lost to them? This year is going to be the same they will be waiting for us in the post season. We need to change that trend.

  • ThatGuy

    is that taking into account that against Jax the D only allowed 16 not 30? (2 pick sixes)

  • falconsaftey43

    There is nothing that guarantees the Steelers play the Patriots in the playoffs. How about we just assess how the Steelers are doing and worry about the playoff matchups when they get here? Not every game needs to be a dissection of how the Steelers would have faired if they’d been playing the Patriots in that game. It’s a ridiculous exercise anyway, since gameplans and everything would be different with a different opponent.

  • pittfan

    “and unfortunately that will probably be good enough to win ..”
    Dude, so negative..why? I just don’t understand choosing to have a negative outlook. The O is trending up. Many of the deficiencies exposed in last years AFCC game have been addressed, ie man to man coverage, better pass rush, fast OLBs who can cover.
    Lots of reasons to be optimistic. Why choose a negative outlook?

  • pittfan

    So many so negative..why? I just don’t understand choosing to have a negative outlook. The O is trending up and I believe more is to come, ie getting MB more fully integrated. Many of the defensive deficiencies exposed in last years AFCC game have been addressed, ie man to man coverage, better pass rush, fast OLBs who can cover.
    Lots of reasons to be optimistic. Why choose a negative outlook?

  • PittShawnC

    That’s why I took away the Jax game at the end, 15.2 over last five games.

    Taking away the 14pts off pick-sixes, our six game average is 15.3

    In the past six games, the following amount of TD’s have been scored on the D’s:

    NE – 9
    PIT – 9

  • SteelersGeek4Lyfe

    Hahaha, somebody should tell Brady and Bill all of this… stats won’t save us from the beast.

  • StrengthOfVictory

    I can’t speak for other fans, but for me, it’s not fear. It’s frustration. Something that just makes you roll your eyes. An itch you can’t quite scratch. I actually look forward to these games. I only puzzle as to why (it seems) we never see the Steelers’ best game or full potential when they play the Pats. When it falls apart too quickly, that’s what drives me up the wall.

  • PittShawnC

    My guess would be a continued 16 year streak of complete Brady dominance over the Steelers

  • heath miller

    ugh past results .. man to man took a hit when joe went down .. will he be back ? will he be back the same .. if everything remains the same as it is now my guess is the pats will be favored on the road? hope im wrong …

  • Jim Foles

    Maybe they played a couple of top teams in the beginning?

  • falconsaftey43

    well, they’ve outplayed 8 out of 10 teams so far.

  • heath miller

    WELL i just looked to see if that was the case jim… week one gave up 42 to the chiefs.. same chiefs that scored 9 this week in OT…. the saints week 2 scored 20 … ok so to hold the saints to 20 is decent.. week 3 gave up 33 to the titans .. OUCH .. and week 4 gave up 33 to the panthers.. thats a lot of points to some not so great teams … personally i think its that the pats just improved a lot not that they gave up a lot early to high octane scoring teams? HEEATH

  • BBNCCU

    Matthew, how many sacks and interceptions do the Steelers have through the first 10 games? I really don’t know>

  • FATCAT716

    Ok I hear you steel realist I’m just tired of every convo about the Steelers I gotta hear about how it don’t matter cuz we can’t beat the patriots smh. I was talking to a coworker about how Joe Haden will be back soon just saw him on the bike that’s good news. He says bro it wouldn’t matter if rod woodson came back Tom Brady gonna kill us smh.

  • Steel Realist PAul

    I feel like after we added Haden, we got in range, but Burns worries me. They needed to add to the DB group and add a 1 so Burns could learn as the 2. Glad Sensa getting a chance because he , may be more consistent than Burns right now.

  • popsiclesticks

    People don’t seem to realize that the Steelers are only playing the game they are playing and so are the other teams. The Steelers-Colts game isn’t going to mean a damn thing when they play NE, and neither is the beatdown that the Chiefs put on NE. The NFL is so unpredictable on a week-to-week basis and people seem to have a hard time with that no matter how many times they see it.

  • popsiclesticks

    But they only played the Lions that week. They are also the only team to put a beating on Minnesota. The Jags ripped Baltimore limb from limb and probably should have lost in Cleveland. It doesn’t matter how you played against other teams….look at Kansas City recently.

  • popsiclesticks

    Three in fifteen years. It’s not exactly clockwork.

  • popsiclesticks

    Every week, good teams play poorly and bad teams play well. And yet so many people think you can just say “well team A shouldn’t have beaten team B, how can they beat team C a month later?!??!?!” like it means anything.

  • popsiclesticks

    Since the Steelers won in 2011, they got crushed by NE during a garbage 2013 season (don’t care), lost somewhat respectably in the 2015 opener, played well for a half with Landry Jones before slipping last year, and got beat down in the playoffs with DW and the Sammie Coates and Cobi Hamilton aerial circus. I understand that it’s not a good trend, but I don’t think NE is unbeatable if the Steelers have actual WRs and a defense ranked higher than like 17th, which they just simply haven’t had in awhile.

  • popsiclesticks

    I understand and you’re right that we are crazy spoiled and NE is usually dominant, but they really haven’t been consistently dominant this season.

    NE has been dominant in let’s say 4 games this season. Depending on your view of the KC game, PIT has been dominant in 4 or 5.

  • popsiclesticks

    BUT…the Steelers aren’t going to win if they play the way they did in September of 2013 against Minnesota!

  • popsiclesticks

    No, but a better defense actually capable of putting up these stats may.

  • SteelersGeek4Lyfe

    “This time is different”

  • mezzetin1

    Because they really aren’t fans. Well… I suppose if its fair weather outside……

  • mezzetin1

    Nope. Only if they blitz his arse.

  • MC

    This is the weakest pats defense the steelers will face in awhile, what they need to do is improve their third down conversions to keep the offense on the field and Brady off. I expect to see a gameplan with a lot of Leveon to keep the chains moving. I don’t care how many points they score, as long as they control the ball/tempo/clock with long sustaining drives and win. Pats are giving up a lot of yards per rush, Haley better not get cute and do the opposite of logic like he did against he bears/jags

  • mezzetin1

    Y’know, if Baltimore gets a wildcard, they could likely knock out the patriots. The pats truly fear any playoff involving the Ravens. Ironic, don’t you think?

  • mezzetin1

    I could not have put it any better.

  • mezzetin1

    It’s pronounced bungholes…

  • popsiclesticks

    What was different in 2011, other than the Steelers having a top 5 defense?

  • SteelersGeek4Lyfe

    The Steelers did not have to play the P*ts in the playoffs, for starters. I guess the Chiefs or the Jags could maybe pick them off.