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The averages may be deceiving, but it is the inconsistency of the Steelers run defense which is the issue

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The Steelers’ rush defense numbers are frustrating, but when you break down the stats they are slightly skewed.

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

The Pittsburgh Steelers defense has certainly had its issues throughout the first 5 games of the 2017 regular season, and for once it isn’t the passing defense. While the pass defense ranks 1st in the NFL, the rush defense is at the other end of the spectrum.

With this trend ridiculously relevant to the upcoming game against Tyreek Hill, Kareem Hunt and the Kansas City Chiefs offense in Week 6, our local stat geek dug into the team’s rush defense issues, by the numbers.

Take a look at this very in-depth report from our own 58Steel:

The total rushing numbers vs. the Jags look horrendous for the Steelers defense. It certainly seemed as though the Steelers defense had held Fournette (and Chris Ivory) in check for most of the game, however. Did a few big runs skew the stats? I wanted to take a look:

Jags ran the ball 36 times (not counting Bortles' scramble). 14 successful runs, or 38.8% success rate

  • 6 runs of 10+ yard runs, or 16%
  • 6 runs resulted in 1st downs, 2 TD, or 22%

Digging deeper, the Steelers run defense was successful in stringing together consecutive successful run stops (non-successful runs for the Jaguars offense). The first 5 run plays by the Jaguars were stops (non-succssful for the offense) by the Steelers defense.

Then the Jaguars hit a streak: 6 consecutive successful runs, culminating in Fournette's 2 yard TD.

The Steelers defense tightened back up. 6 straight stops on run plays had the Jaguars with 17 carries for 50 yards at the half. Outside of the Jaguars lone TD drive, the Steelers were successful in producing run stops on every other Jaguar run. They stopped the Jags on 11 of their 17 1st half rush attempts. Only 1 of the runs went for 10+ yards.

The 3rd quarter saw the Steelers run defense face only 1 attempt, on which they recorded another stop, holding Fournette to 3 yards.

Of course 2 pick-6's by Ben gave the ball back to the Steelers offense time and again. The Steelers punted to start the 4th quarter, pinning the Jaguars at their own 4 yard line. If their run defense could continue it's streak of domination (7 consecutive run stops), the Steelers might have a chance to get back in the game. In short, they did not.

6 of the next 9 runs by the Jaguars were successful, resulting in 5 1st downs. The Steelers then recorded 3 straight stops to force a FG, but the damage was done. Jacksonville moved from their 5 yard line to the Steelers 29, eating up over 8 minutes of clock. Now, the Steelers offense would be forced to pass on every down. To that point, Ben and the passing game had already struggled with 3 INT and had been sacked twice.

The Steelers run defense strung together 4 more run stops, giving them their second streak of 7 straight stops, before Fournette popped his 90 yard run on 3rd and 2. This was only the 3rd time in the game the Jaguars ran the ball on 3rd and 5 yards or less. They converted all 3 times.

My main point in all of this is that "averages" can be misleading. Also, I'm finding that it's the inconsistency of the Steelers run defense that's maddening: 5 straight run stops, 6 straight "failures" by the run defense. Then 7 straight stops. Followed by 6 of 9 failures, with 4 for double digit gains. And these came when the Steelers needed a stop the most. Factor in the 3 for 3 by the Jags when running on 3rd and short, and it seems the defense can't rise up in critical situations.

I also broke down the runs by defensive personnel/scheme:

"Regular" 3-4: 25 runs, 7 successful, or 28%, 25 carries, 164 yards, (90 yard TD included)

4-3 Over "Look" with 3-4 personnel: 3 runs, 2 successful, or 66.7%, 3 carries, 31 yards

Nickel: 3 runs, 3 successful, or 100%, 3 carries, 10 yards

Dime: 4 runs, 0 successful, or 0%, 4 carries, 15 yards

Goal Line (4 DL, 6 LB): 1 run, 1 successful, or 100%, 1 carry, 2 yards, 1TD

These numbers don't necessarily tell much regarding the inconsistency theme. I do like breaking things down to see if I can identify any particular trend among personnel packages/schemes. They do tend to show that the Steelers were highly successful overall with their 3-4 (take out the meaningless 90 yarder and the Jags were 24 carries for 74 yards, only successful 6 of 24 vs it).

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A huge thanks to 58Steel for the latest Stat Geek article. The amount of time and detail which goes into these articles is what makes them great, but also deserves a huge thank you from everyone who enjoys them.

On top of that, the Steelers will have their work cut out for them in Week 6 with Hunt and the Chiefs’ running game. Hunt is capable of breaking off a big run at any moment, and as the stats show, this is exactly what has plagued this defense throughout the regular season.

Stay tuned to BTSC for the latest on the black-and-gold as they attempt to give the Chiefs their first loss of the season in Week 6.