Breakdown of the Steeler defense
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02-08-2018, 11:39 PM

1. The Pass Rush
The new approach to the pass rush worked. This team didn't just set the franchise record for sacks in a season, they did it with a 10.09% sack rate. That's second in franchise history to the 1974 Steelers and their 13.30% sack rate. They recorded sacks at a higher rate than any other Steeler team in history, more than the 1976 defense (9.90%), more than the Greene, Lloyd, Brown and Seals defense of 1994 (9.37%), more than the Gildon, Porter, Bell and Smith led defense of 2001 (9.48 - Cowher's best), better than 2008 with DPoY James Harrison, Woodley, Smith and the best defense this franchise has seen since the Steel Curtain (8.73 - LeBeau's best)
Three Steeler teams since the merger (the 1960's were a different game and the numbers get crazy in all directions) have pulled off a 10% or higher sack rate, 1974, 2017 and 1983 (10.06%).
Interesting note, Jack Lambert was a rookie in 1974, and 1983 was his last season before the injury trouble that forced him to retire. Way to start and end your career.
Now the counter argument is that the Steelers racked up 13 sacks in 2 games against Cleveland. Which is true. And even though every team that gets high numbers of sacks and a great sack rate has some patsy, or two, they ran up numbers on, if you take out both of those games the Steelers have a 8.92% sack rate, which is good for 10th in Franchise history (without removing the sack happy games from those team's numbers) which is still better than the 2008 defense.
What does this tell us? Going into next season the Steelers definitely don't want to change the pressure scheme. I haven't seen full season numbers (if you know where to find them now let me know) but I know at the halfway point of the season Pittsburgh blitzed less than most teams and yet racked up sacks. On film it looked like it continued, but I'm not a great film analyzer. Blitzing more would have made sense because at that point our success rate on blitzes was impressive.

Getting pressure with 4 man rushes is something we've wanted to do, and the beauty of the 3-4 Pittsburgh had designed was that with three incredibly athletic LBs and guys likeSean Davis and Mike Hilton, who are not shabby at rushing, the 4th rusher can come from almost anywhere, can come delayed or in a stunt to create lots of low quality sacks for our defense. Add in a blitzer and you have 2 players out of 6 coming at any one of 9 angles and you need to account for because they are coming fast. Low quality sack just means a sack that came from your scheme beating theirs as opposed to the high quality sack which is your player beating their player and getting a sack on a predictable rush. Pittsburgh had a ton of low quality sacks this year, which should tell you that Keith Butler's defense was doing a fantastic job of getting after the QB.

2. Run Defense

Pittsburgh's run defense was pretty solid is most areas, and not at all good in others. The team average in run defense to the offense's Right (Left side of our defense), ranking 16th in the NFL, and abysmal in our run defense to the offense's Left (Right side of our defense) ranking last in the league by almost a yard over the second-worst.

But how about the middle? Run defense up the middle tells a scary story for next season. The Steelers were right around the top 10 most of the year, going from No. 2 in the first quarter of the season to No. 10 and No. 13 in the second and third quarters of the season. But in weeks 13-16, after Ryan Shazier left the lineup, the defense ranked 31st in the league giving up 5-yards a carry up the middle, up from roughly 3.5 ypc average before that.

3. Short Passes
Bud Dupree and Joe Haden really show up here, recording the lowest yards per pass attempt on all passes thrown to the short right side of the field at 4.64 ypa. Meanwhile T.J. Watt and Artie Burns allowed 6.13 yards per attempt for 20th in the NFL.
As for passes to the short middle of the field, before Week 12 the defense ranked 6th on passes to the short middle, giving up 6.41 yards per pass. And after week 12 the ranking dropped to 31st, giving up 9.55 yards per pass attempt.
4. Combined

When you account for short passes and runs to each side, Pittsburgh's defense ranked No. 3 in the league when the offense attacked our Left side defense, and 31st when they attacked our Right side defense.

On short passes and runs toward Dupree and Haden we were #3 in the NFL, when they attacked TJ and Artie we were 31st. That's a big difference.

When you look at runs between the tackles and short passes over the middle for the first 11 weeks the Steelers ranked 1st in the NFL, giving up 4.12 yards per play, and after week 12 we ranked 31st, giving up 6.18 yards per play. 

Or No. 1 with Shazier, and 31st without Shazier.

In fact, if you take all the short passes and all the run plays faced by the Steelers, before week 12 we ranked 2nd in the NFL in yards per play, after week 12 Pittsburgh ranked 27th. If you want to know the cost of losing Shazier, that's it.

What does this tell us? Going into next year the Steelers really need to address the ILB position, as they've gone from upgrading Vince Williams being something that would be nice, to now looking and saying there is no way we can start the season next year with Vince Williams as our best ILB.
5. Conclusion
So when we look forward to free agency, you have to look at 2 big problems on our defense. First, Shazier isn't playing for the Steelers next year, and secondly, the Right side of our defense couldn't stop the run or short passes last year.

Those problems compound each other, as there are huge weaknesses covering most of the field right now. You can scheme to help one side of the field, and hope Watt improving will mitigate those dreadful numbers, but if you can't stop plays to the ILBs, then you can't scheme to help anybody, and you are going to get beat up.

For this offseason Pittsburgh needs to address ILB in a big way. I'd look for 2 additions, a solid veteran capable of starting, and giving a Vince Williams level of play, but with more speed, and a high draft pick with hopes of them playing at a pretty high level by the end of their rookie year.

While the Right side of the defense was terrible, I am willing to give T.J. a pass, he's a rookie and he showed a lot of good traits; however, the team needs to hope he gets better, but if they don't address the problem of Artie Burns' tackling fans will be in for another long season giving up big plays on short passes and runs to he offense's left.

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02-09-2018, 11:50 PM

the defense was garbage when we needed it. Sorry I may be stupid but I don't care about "stats" at all when this defense collapsed when we needed it most. They made 2nd tier QBs look like hall of famers this year. While I appreciate your stats they don't mean a thing. We were lucky to get by the Ravens for pity's sake. 38 points to a kludge offense. Like I said they were garbage when we needed them the most.

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