The Steelers are one of the best defenses in the NFL. Stats bear out that they are actually one of the most dominant defenses in NFL history, with one enormous caveat.
They aren’t even a good defense if the opposing offense gets the ball on the Steelers side of the field.
First the good news: The Steelers, since week three are one of the best defenses of all time when the opposing offense starts a drive in their own territory.
Looking at per-drive stats and ranking in the NFL: Drive starting in opponents territory.
Yards per drive: 3rd (25.3), 49ers (24.0), Patriots (23.1)
Scoring percentage: 1st (17.4%)
Turnover percentage: 1st (26.4%)
Touchdown percentage: 2nd (10.7), Patriots (10.2%)
The Steelers have the most interceptions (tied), the most fumbles recovered, the fewest TDs allowed and the fewest FGs allowed (tied).
Compare that to the 2008 Steelers rankings for the same stats.
Yards per drive: 1st
Scoring percentage: 1st
Turnover percentage: 10th
Touchdown percentage: 1st
This season the Steelers have been arguably better than the 2008 defense, ranking 1st in scoring and turnovers is a rare feat.
Even bigger is having more turnovers forced than scores allowed.
But then flip the field, and put the ball on the wrong side of the 50 yard line, and you get very different results.
Drives starting in Steelers territory:
Yards per drive: 20th (16.6)
Scoring percentage: 28th (73.7%)
Turnover percentage: 24th-last (0.0%)
Touchdown percentage: 23rd (42.1%)
Note that both sets of numbers start at week 3.
The Steelers 2019 defense is arguably on the list of great defenses of all time on the top list, beating the Patriots who are currently putting up one of the best defensive seasons of all time by Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric.
But when the opposing team gets the ball on the Steelers side of the field they are legitimately bad.
10 of the Bills 17 points were scored on drives starting in Steelers territory, the 6th game this season in which a team has scored more points from drives starting in Steeler territory than their own. That’s half of the games since Minkah Fitzpatrick has been on this team.
Considering that only 19 of the Steelers 160 defensive drives have started in their own territory in that time, that is something.
So while it should go without saying that one of the keys to each game is the offense not giving the other team a short field, for this season, for this defense, that means so much more than usual. Without Jordan Berry’s shanked punt and the Tre’Davious White interception and return into Steelers territory the Steelers defense likely holds the Bills to 10 or fewer points, and statistically would have been more likely to force another turnover than give up a second scoring drive.