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A Three-Year Comparison of the Pittsburgh Steelers Defensive Stats

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The Pittsburgh Steelers have once again turned in an impressive season on the defensive side of the football. In 2009, Dick LeBeau's unit finished the year ranked fairly high in most statistical categories, but every last player and coach in Pittsburgh would tell you that the defense underperformed a year ago. And coming off the year they had in 2008, one wondered at the outset of this season which group this year's defense would resemble - the dominant '08 defense, or the in-opportunistic and largely disappointing '09 version. Obviously the Steelers vowed to return to top form when they convened this past spring and summer, because the Steelers are back near or at the top of every significant stat category. Let's take a look at where they finished in various traditional metrics, as well as how Football Outsiders' assessed their complete body of work in '10, and then compare those final numbers with the final '09 and '08 figures.

Stat 2010 (Rank) 2009 (Rank) 2008 (Rank)
Points/Game 14.5 (1st) 20.2 (t-12th) 13.9 (1st)
Yards/Game 276.8 (2nd) 305.3 (5th) 237.2 (1st)
Yards/Play 4.5 (1st) 5.1 (10th) 3.9 (1st)
Passing Yards/Game 214.1 (12th) 215.4 (16th) 156.9 (1st)
Rushing Yards/Game 62.8 (1st) 89.9 (3rd) 80.2 (2nd)
Yards/Rush 3.0 (1st) 3.9 (t-5th) 3.3 (t-1st)
Yards/Pass Attempt 6.1 (1st) 6.9 (16th) 5.4 (1st)
Completion % 61.2 (16th) 58.2 (7th) 56.5 (5th)
Sacks 48 (1st) 47 (2nd) 51 (2nd)
Interceptions 21 (5th) 12 (25th) 20 (t-6th)
Forced Fumbles, Recovered 24 (3rd), 14 (t-5th) 14 (18th), 10 (16th) 12 (t-23rd), 9 (t-18th)
3rd Down % 34 (t-2nd) 42 (28th) 31 (1st)
Penalties 89 (9th) 102 (21st) 91 (t-20th)
Time of Possession/Game 28:34 (6th) 28:21 (7th) 28:42 (7th)
QB Rating 73.1 (2nd)
83.4 (15th) 63.4 (2nd)
-18.7% (1st)
-2.1% (9th) -26.9% (1st)
Pass. DVOA,
-13.0% (2nd) 
4.0% (14th)
-31.0% (1st)
Rush DVOA -27.7% (1st) -11.1 (9th) -21.7% (2nd)


We can take a closer look at thse numbers in the early stages of the offseason, but a couple quick points that stood out to me. 

  • Proof positive that the Steelers' pass defense has been pretty damn solid this year: they're only allowing 6.1 yards/attempt, tops in the NFL. Have some yards if you must, but it's going to take quite a few plays to engineer much against this defense. And even if you're somewhat confused by Football Outsiders' metrics, just look at that Yards/Attempt to help explain why the Steelers' pass defense is ranked so favorably by them.
  • I also find it somewhat remarkable that the Steelers defense has been penalized so infrequently. I mean, think about it, can you really remember any instances where the Steelers gave up cheap yardage pre-snap with a mental mistake? I can't.
  • There's infinite variables that go into how an NFL season unfolds, but want to know what stat I think best tells the story of why the Steelers struggled a year ago? How about 41% third down conversions allowed, the fourth worst mark in the league. You're not going to survive in this league if you can't get off the field on third down. 
  • Interesting how few fumbles the '08 defense forced and recovered. Fumble stats are fairly random, in so much as they've got to bounce the right way after they're forced, and even if you're doing a good job trying to strip the ball and what not, if an offensive player is protecting the ball well, you can't do much about it. Anyway, imagine if the '08 defense had gotten a bit more 'lucky' in that regard.

More soon. Go Steelers!