In honor of the Steelers season coming to a de facto end against the Cincinnati Bengals on December 23 (known to Seinfeld fans as "Festivus"), I decided to partake in the age-old Festivus tradition of having an Airing of Grievances. Today I'll be taking a look at the Greivances I have with the Steelers Defense. To be honest, the Steelers defense played outstanding through the second half of the season. After giving up 26 to Tennessee, they had a run of 7 games where they held opponents under 21 points. Unfortunately, the offense couldn't do their part and the Steelers dropped winnable games to Cleveland and Baltimore. That said, the defense did have some issues this season.
Third Down Defense
This was an area where the Steelers improved over the course of the season, but against Oakland, Tennessee and San Diego in particular, the Steelers were simply unable to get off the field on third down. The Raiders, yes the Oakland Raiders, were a ridiculous 7 for 12 on 3rd downs against the Steelers with almost all of their conversions coming via quick out-routes against the Steelers defense. Late in the season, the Steelers still hadn't rectified this problem and San Diego converted 12 of 22 third downs, once again mostly on quick outs. No Steelers corner jumped an out-route all season and teams picked the defense apart with quick outs right at the sticks.
The Steelers did a good job of shutting down the run and holding opponents mostly in check through the air, but this was primarily due to good tackling (aside from the Dallas game) in the secondary. Teams did not accumulate a lot of Yards After the Catch against the Steelers this year, and that kept their pass defense numbers relatively low. The biggest problem they had in pass coverage was an inability to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks. There was pressure at times, but it was never consistent and was nonexistent at key moments in games. The only big "splash play" from the outside linebackers this season was when James Harrison stripped Joe Flacco to set up the Steelers in Baltimore. Aside from that, Harrison and Woodley's battles with injury this season severely hampered the Steelers ability to get pressure on the quarterback and force bad throws that would result in turnovers. Which brings me to...
The long and the short of it this season was that the Steelers simply did not force turnovers. On the season they have produced only 16 turnovers, ranking them 5th worst in the league. That is including the 3 turnovers they forced against the Bengals, which was the first time all season the defense forced more than 2 turnovers. In fact, the defense only produced multiple turnovers 3 times - against Philadelphia, Baltimore and Cincinnati. The Steelers faced 9 of the 14 most turnover-prone teams in the league yet still ranked at the bottom in securing takeaways. To make matters worse, it took the Steelers until overtime against Kansas City (the team with the most turnovers in the league) to produce just one turnover. The Chiefs average about 2.5 turnovers per game and the Steelers forced only one. Against the Jets (2.3 per game), Titans (1.9 per game), Cowboys (1.7 per game), Raiders (1.7 per game) and Broncos (1.6 per game) the Steelers had just one takeaway. Against the Chargers (1.7 per game) the Steelers could not force one turnover. A defense that can't pressure the passer, gives up conversions on third downs, and can't take the ball away isn't one that will lead you into the playoffs. There were injuries, such as Troy Polamalu's calf injury that kept him out the better part of the year, but nevertheless the Steelers still lacked the splash plays on defense that they had in the past that turned games in their favor.