Friday, October 24, 2008

So, just how are the Steelers doing --
The Defense

As promised in our similar assessment of the offense, we now offer a look the Pittsburgh Steelers' 2008 defense in the historical context of the past nine seasons. However before getting started we feel compelled to offer this warning: these numbers may be an illusion.

Opponent's total points scored, per game average
Here, ranked in order from lowest to highest, are the average total points scored per game by Steelers' opponents:
  1. 13.25 (2001)

  2. 14.83 (2008)

  3. 15.69 (2004)

  4. 15.94 (2000)

  5. 16.13 (2005)

  6. 16.81 (2007)

  7. 19.69 (2006)

  8. 20.44 (2003)

  9. 21.56 (2002)
To say that the defense has performed well so far (13.5% below the nine season average of 17.15) this season is an understatement. If this unit continues to deliver results like these for the remainder of the season they will be making history.

Opponent's first quarter points scored, per game average
  1. 2.06 (2001)

  2. 2.83 (2008)

  3. 3.06 (2006)

  4. 3.81 (2003)

  5. 4.19 (2000)

  6. 4.19 (2007)

  7. 4.88 (2005)

  8. 4.94 (2002)

  9. 4.94 (2004)
More excellent results ~ shutting down opponents early and often, and more than a full point below the nine year average of 3.88.

Opponent's second quarter points scored, per game average
  1. 2.63 (2004)

  2. 3.06 (2005)

  3. 4.56 (2002)

  4. 4.75 (2000)

  5. 4.88 (2007)

  6. 5.00 (2008)

  7. 5.06 (2001)

  8. 6.13 (2003)

  9. 6.13 (2006)
The defense proves it is human.

Opponent's third quarter points scored, per game average
  1. 0.81 (2001)

  2. 1.00 (2008)

  3. 3.13 (2000)

  4. 3.38 (2005)

  5. 4.06 (2006)

  6. 4.13 (2004)

  7. 4.38 (2007)

  8. 4.44 (2003)

  9. 5.38 (2002)
The nine year average for this quarter is 3.41, meaning that this year's defense is more than 70% to the good, and within hailing distance of the 2001 unit's record.

Opponent's fourth quarter points scored, per game average
  1. 3.19 (2007)

  2. 3.69 (2000)

  3. 4.00 (2004)

  4. 4.25 (2005)

  5. 5.13 (2001)

  6. 5.88 (2003)

  7. 6.00 (2008)

  8. 6.25 (2006)

  9. 6.69 (2002)
The curse of the prevent defense?

Opponent's total first downs, per game average
  1. 15.50 (2004)

  2. 15.56 (2007)

  3. 15.75 (2000)

  4. 15.88 (2001)

  5. 16.50 (2008)

  6. 16.81 (2006)

  7. 16.88 (2003)

  8. 17.19 (2005)

  9. 17.44 (2002)
Given the excellent results in scoring defense it seems a small point to quibble about, but ~ and this is something we have noticed in games ~ the 2008 defense seems absolutely intent (like most defensive units) to do all it can to keep from giving up big plays (think last season's New England game). So if teams pick up first downs on along the way so be it, even if it means the 2008 unit is performing below the nine season average in this category (16.39).

Opponent's rushing first downs, per game average
  1. 4.00 (2008)

  2. 4.38 (2001)

  3. 4.50 (2006)

  4. 4.63 (2007)

  5. 4.69 (2005)

  6. 4.81 (2002)

  7. 4.94 (2004)

  8. 5.13 (2000)

  9. 5.56 (2003)
With Casey Hampton having eaten is way onto the PUP list and beyond it amazes us that the defense continues to perform as well as it is; and it also reinforces what we said last season ~ the Steelers are a different team with Aaron Smith in the lineup.

Opponent's passing first downs, per game average
  1. 9.13 (2004)

  2. 9.56 (2000)

  3. 9.69 (2003)

  4. 9.88 (2007)

  5. 10.00 (2001)

  6. 11.00 (2006)

  7. 11.13 (2002)

  8. 11.17 (2008)

  9. 11.19 (2005)
For all the good work in controlling ground attacks the soft underbelly of the defense continues to be the secondary.

Opponent's first downs by penalty, per game average
  1. 1.06 (2000)

  2. 1.06 (2007)

  3. 1.31 (2005)

  4. 1.31 (2006)

  5. 1.33 (2008)

  6. 1.44 (2004)

  7. 1.50 (2001)

  8. 1.50 (2002)

  9. 1.63 (2003)
That 2003 team (i.e. offense and defense) looks worse with every passing statistic.

Next we look at play propensity ~ i.e. the mix of run-to-pass:

Opponent's pass attempts, per game average
  1. 30.25 (2003)

  2. 30.25 (2004)

  3. 32.50 (2000)

  4. 32.81 (2001)

  5. 33.06 (2006)

  6. 33.50 (2007)

  7. 34.17 (2008)

  8. 34.31 (2005)

  9. 35.81
The concern over the number of first downs given up via the pass is muted somewhat by the number of passes the Steelers' stout run defense is forcing.

Opponent's rushing attempts, per game average
  1. 21.19 (2001)

  2. 22.31 (2004)

  3. 22.44 (2002)

  4. 22.56 (2007)

  5. 23.67 (2008)

  6. 25.13 (2005)

  7. 25.50 (2006)

  8. 26.63 (2000)

  9. 28.06 (2003)
Slightly below the nine year average (24.16).

Opponent's net passing yards, per game average
  1. 158.67 (2008)

  2. 176.50 (2007)

  3. 177.19 (2004)

  4. 183.88 (2001)

  5. 188.69 (2000)

  6. 190.13 (2003)

  7. 198.00 (2005)

  8. 212.06 (2006)

  9. 216.25 (2002)
This is incredible ~ the second highest average of pass attempts per game in the past nine seasons is yielding, on average, the lowest number of yards? However, though we want to be really excited about this, this statistic is what got us thinking beyond just the numbers. The Steelers have faced two young quarterbacks (i.e. Joe Flacco and Ryan Fitzpatrick), and we're beginning to wonder just how much this has effected the numbers.

Opponent's net rushing yards, per game average
  1. 69.67 (2008)

  2. 74.69 (2001)

  3. 81.19 (2004)

  4. 85.91 (2002)

  5. 86.00 (2005)

  6. 88.25 (2006)

  7. 89.88 (2007)

  8. 105.81 (2000)

  9. 108.81 (2003)
Whatever the reason, this season's number is eye-popping! The 2008 average is nearly 20 yards below the nine year average (87.80).

So there is plenty to feel good about, right? Something worth keeping in mind is that, overall, the quality of the offenses the Steelers have faced so far has not been the greatest. For example, in terms of average points per game, here are where the six teams the Steelers have faced so far this season are ranked in the NFL:
  • Philadelphia, 4th

  • Houston, 14th

  • Jacksonville, 22nd

  • Baltimore, 26th

  • Cleveland, 30th

  • Cincinnati, 31st
By way of comparison here are how the Steelers' next four opponents stackup in the same category:
  • New York, 2nd

  • Washington, 23rd

  • Indianapolis, 20th

  • San Diego, 6th
Tougher to be sure, and how long will the Colts continue to struggle? For Steelers fans we can only hope that they do not get back on track until some time after Thanksgiving.

The takeaway from all of this is that, for all the great work the defense has done so far, bigger challenges lay ahead.

Labels:

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home