Breaking down the stats: Why the Steelers defense has allowed so many 3rd down conversions
Steelers are giving up fewer big gains
The Pittsburgh Steelers allow less first downs per play than all but 1 of the top 5 defenses in the NFL. Indianapolis is the only top 5 defense in the league that is allowing a smaller 1st down per play percentage than Pittsburgh, per Team Rankings. If we think about it logically, the other 3 top 5 defenses in the NFL have to be allowing more first down conversions on first and second down than the Steelers. If Pittsburgh is allowing less total first downs overall than these elite defenses, while allowing a higher number of 1st down conversions on 3rd down, statistically that means that the Steelers are giving up less big gains on first and second down.
In conclusion, I believe that the high rate of 3rd down conversions for Pittsburgh, at 6 per game, is a bi-product of forcing opposing offenses to have to work harder to move the chains, by limiting their conversion rates on 1st and 2nd downs as well as generating fewer turnovers. We would still like to see the Pittsburgh Steelers defense get off the field on 3rd down at a higher rate than 25th in the league.
Yet, it is comforting to know that these numbers are inflated a bit by the situations the defense is consistently forcing opponents into in the 2020 season. I look for the rate to improve regardless, as Tomlin’s trademark on defense the last few years has been to play sound situational defense. Think to how many times you’ve heard the saying “bend don’t break” by commentators and analysts while watching these games in the red zone. I’m sure they are looking for ways to force punts or turnovers at a higher and faster rate.