Thursday, January 17, 2008

Season in Review: Rushing Yards Allowed

In the aftermath of the Fred Taylor's romp through the Steelers' defense on December 16, 2007 we examined just how significant Aaron Smith was to the performance of the defense against the run, and as our analysis showed he was pretty significant.

And as part of our post-season review we looked at the passing yards surrendered by the Steelers, and found that they actually improved quite a bit in that area compared to the previous season.

Those two facts led us to wonder just how the Steelers did against the run? That is, did the improvement against passing attacks come about because of an increased vulnerability to the ground game? Here are the numbers for the seasons 2000-2007:


Though slightly worse than the 2006 season, the Steelers defense was still third best in the NFL against the run in 2007 (and the 224 yards by Jacksonville in the first meeting represented 15.58% of the total allowed this past season), and is second best over the entire eight year period (96 yards behind Baltimore) so there's little doubt that the Steelers' defense is playing great football, right? Well, look at this (click on the image for a larger picture):

The Steelers are performing amazingly well compared other defenses, but over the last four seasons the trend -- slightly, almost imperceptibly -- has been incrementally worse; and they have not come close to repeating their breath-taking performance of 2001.

When considering where the Steelers' most immediate problems lie, run defense is way down the list. However, the trend line bears watching, and underscores the need for improved depth along the defensive line (i.e. someone to replace Pro Bowl caliber Aaron Smith and Casey Hampton if/when they are injured -- no easy task).

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