Monday, February 16, 2009

Season in Review: Net Rushing Yardage (2008)

We continue our look at the 2008 regular season with an assessment of the performance by the Pittsburgh defense against the run. In the simplest terms it did very well ~ performing much better than the average of all NFL defenses ~ as has been the case for most of the past nine seasons, bu was not only second best amongst Steelers' defenses during the 2000-2008 period but was also second best in the NFL this past season.

The least surprising aspect of the Steelers' defensive performance is that they were vastly superior to the NFL average in net rushing yards. Here is our graphical look:


Even in their worst season (i.e. 2003) the Steelers' run defense has been significantly better than average.

Only marginally more surprising is that the 2001 Steelers' defense outperformed the 2008 group, and that the 2004 unit was nearly as good.

20002001200220032004
1,6931,1951,3751,7411,299

2005200620072008
1,3761,4121,4381,284

The 154 yard improvement this past season compared to the 2007 season is certainly noteworthy, however the decline from 2000-to-2001 (498 yards) and 2003-to-2004 (442 yards) were far more significant.

Finally, the aspect of this that surprised us the most is that over the past three seasons the defense that has performed best against the run has been in . . . Minnesota?

In the 2005 season the Vikings surrendered 1,841 yards rushing. Then in the 2006 season a certain someone that all fans of the Steelers know took over as defensive coordinator, and net rushing yards allowed by the Vikings that season plummeted to 985 yards ~ the largest year-on-year decline by any team during the 2000-2008 time period. In the two seasons since that defensive coordinator made his way to Pittsburgh the Vikings have still been #1 against the rush but have not performed quite as well.

For fun, here is a comparison of the Steelers run defense versus the Steelers for the past three regular seasons:


Despite the fact that the Steelers' defense was worse against the run in 2007 than 2006 (something that we believe was directly related to the absence of Aaron Smith because of injury) the 2008 defense improved; and the job that the defensive coordinator did in Minnesota in 2006 gives us hope that more improvement lies ahead.

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