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Steelers Connection: Deciphering the difference between the 2015 and 2016 defenses

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The Pittsburgh Steelers defense is struggling, but with a lineup essentially the same as 2015, what is the main problem with the current group?

The 2016 Pittsburgh Steelers defense is struggling. They are giving up a lot of yards, and their point totals have increased from last year as well. What is truly mind-boggling is why this unit is struggling as much as they are.

Looking at the players on the field, there really isn’t much of a difference in personnel. The only differences are the departures of the following players:

Steve McLendon
Antwon Blake
Brandon Boykin
Will Allen

Yes, there have been injuries, but have the absences of those aforementioned players been that big of a difference? When you look at the statistics it simply doesn’t add up.

In 2015, the defense finished 21st in the league in terms of average yards surrendered a game, with 363. However, their saving grace was their 11th ranking in regards to points allowed per game, with 19.9. The biggest component of the defense in 2015 was their ability to sack the quarterback, and create turnovers. They finished the season with 48 sacks and 30 turnovers (17 interceptions and 13 fumble recoveries).

On the flip side is the 2016 defense. Granted, they have only played 9 games, but the sample size is large enough to give it credibility. This specific unit ranks 25th in terms of yards allowed, with 380 per game, and 14th with points allowed, giving up 22.9 points per game. The biggest difference between the two years are the sacks and turnovers. So far in 2016, the defense has only sacked the opposing quarterback 13 times (tied for 30th in the NFL), and created 10 turnovers, 4 interceptions and 6 fumble recoveries.

So, what is the biggest difference? The players who left weren’t huge difference makers, and although they are missing Bud Dupree, his presence alone won’t fix this 2016 unit. The team isn’t blitzing to protect it’s secondary, but the secondary can’t be worse than what it was in 2015.

Either way you look at it, you are left with more questions than answers. Take a listen to the latest podcast in the player above where I dive head first into this topic and try to find the factors which are keeping this 2016 unit down.

It should be noted this was recorded before the news of Cameron Heyward being lost for the season was released.

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