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The Yin and Yang of the 2013 Steelers: Part I

The Steelers finished with an 8-8 record. Eight enjoyable wins and eight frustrating losses; a harmonious balance of the “good” and the “bad” that made up their 2013 season. When one looks at the stats of the two halves of the season, the commonly accepted Yin and Yang symbol, adorned in black and gold, pretty well represents how the Steelers did.


In Laozi's teachings of the Chinese philosophy of Taoism, the symbol above represents the duality of nature and the balancing of Yin and Yang forces; it is a desirable goal to achieve because it signifies in part an acceptance that one can't have the "good" without accepting the "bad" as well.

The outer circle represents "everything", while the black and gold shapes within the circle represent the interaction of two forces, called "Yin" (black, or defense for purposes of this article) and "Yang" (gold or offense), which cause everything to happen. Yin and yang can be thought of as complementary (instead of opposing) forces interacting to form a dynamic system in which the whole is greater than the parts. Dark shadows need light to exist; flowers bloom and die away, but in doing so produce seeds to grow again. Every organism, including a collection of players called a team, has both yin and yang aspects; they are not completely one or the other.

"'d be surprised how many people violate this simple principle every day of their lives and try to fit square pegs into round holes, ignoring the clear reality that Things Are As They Are." - Benjamin Hoff, The Tao of Pooh

"You are what your record says you are." - Bill Parcells

Unfortunately, Laozi never coached in the NFL; a "balanced" record is not something NFL teams strive for (well, okay maybe the Cleveland Browns do).

However, the concept of these two forces, the two primary units that make up what is the "Pittsburgh Steelers" interacting as complimentary dynamic forces creating a synergy of success is valid. Without a strong and effective defense to limit the opponents' progress down the field or scores, the Steelers' offense was forced to start playing deep within its own territory and lean primarily on the passing game to try to keep up the scoring pace in a race against the clock; this allowed the opposing defense to ignore the threat of the run and tee off on our QB.

Likewise, without a strong and effective offense that could sustain long drives and score points in quantity, the Steelers' defense was often times taking the field already deep in its own territory which made things easier for the opposing offense to score points faster, thus magnifying the impact of each point allowed given the dearth of points the offense was producing.

Our Black-n-Gold symbol, the Steelers "Yin(z) Yang" if you will, illustrates both how the Steelers performed this past year as well the interdependency of the offense and defense. Their overall record was 8-8. For the first half of the season they were 2-6; for the second half, 6-2; the inability of the offense to perform effectively in the first half of the season contributed to negatively impacting the effectiveness of the defense. Conversely, the manifold increase in the number of turnovers produced by the defense in the second half of the season contributed mightily towards the offense's ability to produce more points than the opponent.

The Steelers possessed the ball more than their opponents in both halves of the season. Unfortunately, in the first half they allowed 50 percent more points than they managed to score themselves. Here's an updated breakdown of the Steelers' Time of Possession and points scored for the first eight games:


Now look at how the Steelers were able to turn things around in the second half of the season:


While increasing their time of possession by only 55 seconds, the Steelers were able to go from being outscored 8.7 points a game on average to outscoring their opponents by an average of 7.6 points a game.

It's important to remember however that this is not just because of changes to the offense; the yin yang symbol shows the two sides (offense and defense) interdependent of each other, so while the offense increased its production by 61.3 percent, the defense improved its performance as reflected in the decrease the opponents' points production by 22 percent.

So how was this dramatic reversal of fortune achieved? Let's start by looking at a breakdown, by quarters, of the Steelers' drive charts for the first and second half of the season:


A couple of things jump out right away: in the first half of the season the Steelers' drives started, on average, on their own 25 yard line; in the second half on their 33 yard line. The number of possessions and plays are the same for the two halves of the season, but the next table will highlight how and why they were a far more efficient offensive unit in the second half of the season, despite ending drives on their own 41 yard line in the second half instead of the 48 yard line.


Three key factors stand out: First, the increase in touchdowns obviously, but also the number of turnovers committed by the offense, primarily Ben Roethlisberger (nine fumbles, six lost and 14 interceptions). In the first 8 games, the Steelers turned the ball over 17 times; in the final 8 games, only 7 times.

Again, the duality of a harmonious team, meaning offense and defense working together and effectively is key to a team's overall success. Here's how the opponents faired against the Steelers in the first and second halves of the season:


And here is how the Steelers defense improved against the opponents' drives, with the key factors highlighted in yellow:


Go back to the ToP tables at the beginning; the Steelers' defense reduced the opponents' average score per game from 26 to 20.3 primarily by increasing by 33 percent the number of turnovers created (from 6 over the first 8 games to 14 over the last 8 games. In particular, Troy Polamalu became a turnover producing machine by his aggressive efforts to strip the ball from his victims. Jarvis Jones and Vince Williams also stood out with similar efforts once they became more comfortable with their assignments.

Factor in the large reduction in the number of turnovers committed by the Steelers' offensive (again primarily Roethlisberger) and you begin to see the synergistic benefits created by the improved performances of the Steelers' Yin and Yang (Defense and Offense).

The Black-n-Gold Yin and Yang is also a model of what the Steelers will strive to achieve this offseason; a team with its offense (gold) and defense (black) in balance and each containing an element of the other signifying that the defense needs to improve in creating scoring opportunities via turnovers, and the offense needs to strive to defend against opponents starting drives in Steelers' territory by improving its ability to control the ball and produce extended drives beyond midfield.

Part II focuses on the frequency and effectiveness of the No Huddle offense throughout the season