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Deciphering if the Steelers defense is good, great or elite

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The Pittsburgh Steelers defense is a tough nut to crack, and we try to decipher whether the unit is bordering elite, or just getting by against not-so-great offenses.

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Jacksonville Jaguars v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers defense is in its own version of the Twilight Zone. For years it was the run defense which was stellar, accompanied by a sagging pass defense. In 2017, it seems as if the results have swapped. A top notch pass defense, combined with a sporadic defense against the run.

Either way, most would agree the Steelers defensive unit has out-performed expectations throughout the first 5 weeks of the season. But is this group good, great or even elite?

Let’s see if we can figure this out...

Stats Don’t Lie

Check out the stats for this defense thru 5 games:

  • 1,381 yards allowed (7th)
  • 276.2 yards per game (4th)
  • 698 pass yards (1st)
  • 139.6 pass yards per game (1st)
  • 683 rush yards (28th)
  • 136.6 rush yards per game (28th)
  • 89 points allowed (T-9th)
  • 17.8 points per game (6th)

Not bad statistics at all, but there is a lot more to factor in here...

Stats Don’t Lie, or Do They?

The Pittsburgh pass defense is tops in the league, but have they been tested? Let’s take a look at the quarterbacks they’ve faced thru 5 games.

Week 1: DeShone Kizer (R)
Week 2: Case Keenum
Week 3: Mike Glennon
Week 4: Joe Flacco
Week 5: Blake Bortles

The pass defense success is directly related to the pass rush improving as well, but when the team plays Alex Smith and the Chiefs in Week 6, it will be their first test against an elite NFL offense.

Rush D Has Been Tested Plenty...

While the question remains regarding the team’s pass defense not being tested by elite quarterbacks, the team’s rushing defense certainly has faced some talented backs this season.

Week 1: Isaiah Crowell
Week 2: Delvin Cook
Week 3: Jordan Howard
Week 4: Javarious Allen
Week 5: Leonard Fournette

It doesn’t get any easier for the Steelers as they will try and slow down Kareem Hunt in Week 6 at Arrowhead Stadium.

The verdict?

While the Steelers defense is vastly improved, and shocking fans along the way with a ferocious pass rush, the hiccups in the rushing defense are stopping this unit from being truly elite. If their rushing defense were more reliable, this defense could be one of the best in the league. There is still hope they get it together in the back half of the season, but as of right now I would call the Steelers defense good, bordering great, but far from elite — right now.

You can hear more details, statistics and analysis in the podcast player above. Take a listen to the 12-minute show...you won’t regret it!

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