When it’s all said and done, exactly how well did the defense play this last season? How well did DC Dick Le Beau and his staff handle the ups and downs, the pressure of stopping NFL offenses.
The strict statistician in me wants to point to the numbers and say, “They did just fine.”
But, as with all things in football, the truth is more complex than simple numbers.
If you look at the raw numbers, they tell you this defense played pretty well, for the most part. They were fifth in the league in points allowed, first in yards allowed, first in yards allowed per play, first in first downs allowed per game, and second in opponent time of possession. That’s great, especially when you consider that they were very often given a short field to defend due to turnovers by the offense.
Of course, this begs the question, how did anyone score on the Steelers at all?
The answer is that once the opponent got within the Steelers’ 20-yard-line, there was a pretty good chance they would score. The Steelers allowed opponents to score touchdowns 52.4% of the time when they were in the red zone, which was 13th in the league. That’s not nearly good enough for a defense that is so good on the other 80 yards of the field.
Now, the other job of the defense, aside from preventing the opponent from scoring, is to get the ball for the offense.
The Steelers defense managed only 20 turnovers for the year, and four of them came in the last, meaningless, game against the Browns.
That’s better than the 16 they produced in 2011, but a far cry from the 39 they produced in 2010, when they appeared in their record tying 8th Super Bowl.
We can talk about injuries, of course. Former Defensive Player of the Year – and recently released – linebacker James Harrison missed three games. Former DPOY Troy Polamalu missed nine games. Number one corner Ike Taylor, missed four games, and LB LaMarr Woodley missed three.
That’s a lot of talent missing from the defense, and, in fairness, it’s hard to make up for that kind of production.
But if you’ve ever read my work before, I don’t accept injuries as an excuse. Every team has injuries. To paraphrase Coach Mike Tomlin, excuses are for the weak.
So, while the defense was put into some pretty bad situations by the offense throughout the year, they played well and managed to keep the Steelers in a lot of games that they might not have been in otherwise. Of their eight losses, only three were by six or more points, and only one by more than two scores. There aren’t many teams that could give up eight turnovers and still be within a touchdown of winning the game. The Steelers were in exactly that position in their game in Cleveland.
That says a lot about the defense (and probably says a lot about the Browns).
On the other hand, turnover production is still down. For the Steelers to be so poor at forcing turnovers is completely unacceptable.
Pros: At or near the top in the league in several important stats; played well even when put into bad situations by the offense. Cons: too few turnovers; couldn’t stop teams from scoring once they were in the red zone; not enough pressure on quarterbacks (which I didn’t even discuss). Overall, I would have to give the Steelers’ defense a C.