After Week 1’s collapse it was popular to predict that the Pittsburgh Steelers would have one of the NFL’s worst defenses in 2015. Several weeks later, it’s now clear all that chatter was overblown.
Pittsburgh may not have a top-tier defense like the Denver Broncos or the New York Jets, but the unit is considerably better than advertised.
According to ESPN, through four games the Steelers defense is giving up just 18.8 points per game, which is the 7th lowest mark in the league. The yardage numbers are also positive. Pittsburgh’s opponents are averaging 346 yards per contest, which ranks 12th. It may not be anything to write home about but NFL teams can’t expect to run up the score on this team like many originally thought.
How are they getting it done?
First and foremost, the Steelers defense is getting plenty of pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
Right now Pittsburgh has 14 total team sacks. Only the Broncos, Rams and Packers have tallied more so far. Stephon Tuitt is leading the team with 3.5. Watch him bring down Joe Flacco in the first quarter last week:
What’s most encouraging about Pittsburgh’s pass rush is that it’s not all coming from one place. James Harrison, Bud Dupree, and Cameron Heyward are all contributing. Jeremy Fowler of ESPN wrote this morning that the Steelers are on pace for 56 sacks this year, which would have been an NFL-best in 2014.
The Steelers have also done a decent job of stopping the run through the first month of the season. At the moment opponents are rushing for 113.3 yards per game, and that number took a big jump following Baltimore’s big night on the ground last Thursday.
New England ran for just 80 yards in the season opener. The next week the Steelers limited the 49ers to 3.6 yards per carry and only Colin Kaepernick‘s scrambles did any damage. Week 3 the Steelers held the Rams to 71 rushing yards. Only Justin Forsett has looked truly impressive running against this team.
Keith Butler deserves credit for continuing some of the things that Dick LeBeau did successfully during his time with the Steelers, but one ongoing problem is pass coverage: Pro Football Focus has Pittsburgh ranked 27th in coverage through four weeks.
If the Steelers can find a way to stop other teams’ passing attack they will be a serious playoff contender come December.
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