Everyone is grumbling about Keith Butler, Cover 2, and the state of the Pittsburgh Steelers defense. 2014 was indeed one of the worst years for the Black and Gold defensively, though one of the best for its offense, which prevented a disastrous season and actually got the team to the playoffs.
How bad was the 2014 unit? Let's compare the 2014 Steelers to themselves from previous years.
In 2014, the Steelers only had 33 sacks. This statistic had been troubling and in dramatic decline after the 2010 season when the team registered 48 sacks. 2011 brought only 35 and the total hovered around there until last season. At its best, the Steelers defense was able to menace the quarterback and bring him to the ground 55 times in both 1994 and 2001. Weak years saw 34 sacks in 1990 and 35 in 2002.
Bottom line: 2014 was a horrendous year for sacks.
Precipitous drop off after 2010 when the Steelers totaled 319 sack yards. The 2014 statistic? Only 194. In 2001 the team had 367 sack yards off of 55 sacks.
Bottom line: 33 total sacks don't get you a lot of sack yardage.
In 2014 the Steelers totaled 11 interceptions, up from 10 in both 2012 and 2013. In 2010, however, the Steelers had 21 interceptions, their best total in years. The nineties saw several phenomenal years in terms of interceptions with 24 in 1990 (the same year they only had 34 sacks) and 23 in 1996.
Bottom line: Unlike 1990, the Steelers sucked in terms of both sacks and interceptions in 2014.
Opponent Points Scored Allowed
In 2014, the Steelers allowed 349 points, a number that had been rising steadily since 2011 when they allowed 307 points. Contrast that with the Steelers team from 1998 that allowed only 228 points. Troy Polamalu's first year with the team saw only 266 points allowed. Yards allowed was even more dismal; the 2014 Steelers defense gave up 353 yards per game up from a 15-year-low of only 237 in 2008.
Bottom line: 2014 was the worst year for points allowed in over 15 years.
The 2014 defense managed to rack up 54 passes defensed. Compare that to the 2008 and 2010 squads that each racked up 91.
Bottom line: Not good.
In 2014, the Steelers defense forced 11 fumbles. It wasn't the worst total, but it certainly was well below the Steelers usual level of performance. In 2011 they only had 6 forced fumbles, but most years the team was in the mid-teens, sometimes over 20.
Bottom line: Not terrible, but not great either.
What are some takeaways from these dismally depressing statistics?
1) A change in management on the defensive side of the ball was a long time coming. For many of these categories, the team had been in either precipitous or steady decline for several years.
2) There is room for improvement!
3) The NFL has become a league geared more towards powerhouse offenses. As I noted in a prior article about the defense, it is possible to be a Super Bowl contender with a very weak defensive unit.