The 2020 version of the Pittsburgh Steelers sports one of the league’s best defenses. They are ranked in the top ten in almost every statistical category. This love for the defense however, is overshadowing the offense; which has quietly put together a good season thus far.
The Steelers Defense is Overshadowing the Offense
Passing Defense vs. Offense
The Steelers’ passing defense has been great. Their pass rush is getting to opposing quarterbacks at a torrid rate. In fact, the pass rush has had at least three sacks in every game thus far this season. The Pittsburgh pass rush getting to the quarterback isn’t new though, since they’ve gotten a sack in 62 consecutive games, approaching the all-time record of 69 consecutive games with a sack. Outside of the pass rush, Pittsburgh allows the eighth-least yards per game through the air (219/game) and has the second most interceptions in the league with eight.
Pittsburgh’s passing offense isn’t lighting up the scoreboard, frankly because they don’t have to. Ben Roethlisberger is not going to put up gaudy numbers like your Patrick Mahomes’ or your Russell Wilsons. What Roethlisberger can do however, is limit mistakes; and to this point in the season he has done just that. Right now Ben Roethlisberger has a 69.1% completion percentage, 109.1 passer rating, 1178 yards, 11 touchdowns and only one interception. Through five games he hasn’t lit up the scoreboard, but at this point in his career he shouldn’t be asked to do this. The passing offense in Pittsburgh is limiting mistakes right now, which is more than you can say for years past.
Rushing Defense vs. Offense
For as good as Pittsburgh’s pass defense has been, their rushing defense has been even better. You don’t even have to look far back to see their last dominant performance. In Week Six, the Steelers were up against the Cleveland Browns and their league leading rushing attack which was averaging just over 188 yards per game on the ground. The Steelers allowed 75 yards, which could have been lower if not for a couple of garbage time runs when the game was already out of reach. As good as this defense has been at getting to the quarterback, they’ve been even better at neutralizing opposing running backs to a tune of 66 yards per game allowed on the ground; good for second in the NFL.
As mentioned above, the passing offense hasn’t lit up the scoreboard because they haven’t had to. This is because the rushing attack has been good enough for them to lean on. The Steelers this season have had a top ten ground game, rushing for just over 136 yards per game. After a lackluster performance that saw James Conner rush for only nine yards on six carries in Week One, he has bounced back in the next four contests to average 90 yards per game and has scored a touchdown in each game. On the season he has carried the ball 75 times for 369 yards and four touchdowns. Just like Roethlisberger isn’t like the Mahomes’ and Wilsons of the world, James Conner isn’t your Dalvin Cook or Alvin Kamara. James Conner has been
dependable as a feature back, and it has even opened up opportunities elsewhere. Chase Claypool has scored rushing touchdowns in consecutive games off of jet sweeps, so that is another element of the Steelers rushing attack that opposing defenses need to accommodate for now.
Conversions and Turnover Differential
If there is one aspect of the game where the offense is better than the defense, it is on third downs. The offense is converting 45.9% on third downs, good for tenth in the league. The third down defense has been average, getting stops on 42.6% of third downs which puts that at 16th in the league.
Taking the ball away is important as a defense, and keeping the ball is important as an offense. Both sides of the ball for the Steelers have done a good job in this aspect yielding a turnover differential of +5, which is the second best in the league. The defense has taken the ball nine times which is the fourth most in the league, while the offense has given the ball away four times which is the third fewest giveaways.
Yardage and Scoring
The Steelers defense is giving up the third fewest total yards per game in the NFL, yielding just over 318 yards per contest. The offense in terms of yardage is rather middling. The offense only gains just over 376 yards per game, which is 18th in the league. That has not affected their scoring, however.
The Steelers are scoring the fourth most points per game in the NFL with just over 31 points per game. It really helps to have a defense that will give you a short field to work with. This isn’t going to be the kind of offense that gets you a ton of yards like the Killer B’s, but they don’t have to be to score a lot of points since the defense usually sets them up with good field position. The defense is giving up a little over 18 points per game, so they’ve been good at keeping opposing teams out of the endzone.
The Bottom Line
The Steelers are one of the best teams in the league because they have balance. The Steelers not only have one of the best defenses in the entire NFL, but they also have an offense that can get the job done. In 2019 the Steelers missed the playoffs because the offense held the team back while the defense was top five. This year, the team doesn’t have that problem; but this is largely going unnoticed because all you hear about is the defense and you never hear about the improvement of the offense. This Steelers team is off to a great start of the season because of how well they have played on both sides of the ball.