We have all seen the struggles the Pittsburgh Steelers have had on the offensive side of the ball. Though they often manage to find ways to win, the offense has been stagnant all year and they fail to consistently turn drives into points. This is evidenced by their 16.6 points per game and 278.5 yards per contest -- both good for 29th in the NFL entering Week 10.
Somehow Pittsburgh sits on a 5-3 record entering the halfway point of the season. We assume that this is all because of their defense. However, when it comes to opponent yards allowed per game, the Steelers are mindbogglingly low on the list. Here's a look at NFL standings ordered by opponent points allowed per contest, via Team Rankings.
NFL Standings: Opponent yards allowed per game entering Week 10
1. Cleveland Browns: 234.8
2. Baltimore Ravens: 262.6
3. Dallas Cowboys: 288.0
4. Kansas City Chiefs: 288.2
5. Detroit Lions: 296.9
6. Atlanta Falcons: 304.0
7. New Orleans Saints: 304.3
8. Carolina Panthers: 310.0
9. NY Jets: 312.0
10. San Francisco 49ers : 315.0
11. Green Bay Packers: 320.1
12. Miami Dolphins: 322.4
13. Philadelphia Eagles: 323.3
14. Minnesota Vikings: 328.0
15. Las Vegas Raiders: 330.9
16. New England Patriots: 333.4
17. Buffalo Bills: 334.0
18. Houston Texans: 335.0
19. Chicago Bears: 336.6
20. Tennessee Titans: 337.8
21. NY Giants: 338.3
22. LA Rams: 340.0
23. Jacksonville Jaguars: 342.8
24. Arizona Cardinals: 352.4
25. Seattle Seahawks: 354.1
26. Indianapolis Colts: 360.6
27. Cincinnati Bengals: 364.0
28. Washington Commanders: 368.9
29. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 372.3
30. LA Chargers: 375.8
31. Pittsburgh Steelers: 377.3
32. Denver Broncos: 405.9
At first glance, this number by the Pittsburgh Steelers looks appalling. Mike Tomlin's defense is surrendering a whopping 377.3 yards per game entering Week 10 of the 2023 season. This is the second-worst mark in the league next to only the pitiful Denver Broncos. But is the defense really as bad as the stats would suggest?
When we look at opponent yards allowed, we need to take the label of 'total defense' with a grain of salt. Yes, the defense is responsible for most of the yards they surrender, but this stat is not so cut and dry. In fact, it might have just as much to do with the offensive side of the football.
Steelers have a much better defense than this raw number suggests
The Steelers are 30th in the NFL in time of possession per game (27:09). The offense's inability to stay on the football field means that Pittsburgh's defenders are playing far more snaps than they should be asked to. It also means that they are often playing gassed without much of a break on the sideline to recover their energy before being thrust back on the field after a dreaded three-and-out by the offense.
While the opponent yards allowed per game does look bad, Pittsburgh's defense is far better than this raw number suggests. In terms of yards per play allowed, this number goes up to 25th in the NFL. However, DVOA might be the best way to measure how efficient this offense is. In terms of DVOA, the Steelers have the 6th-best offense in the NFL. EPA (Expected Points Added) suggests something similar -- crediting Pittsburgh with the 9th-best offense in the league.
This shows why it's important to take a collection of data and not just look at one raw stat when trying to evaluate a team's 'total defense'. Obviously, the Pittsburgh Steelers have plenty of work to do and there are some major weaknesses in the secondary. But this defense is still much better than these NFL standings of opponent yards allowed per game would indicate.