The Pittsburgh Steelers have a reputation of a defensive franchise. They won four Super Bowls in six years in the 1970s based on, arguably, the best group of defensive players ever to play the game, in the Steel Curtain. In the 1990’s, Blitzburgh led the franchise to a Super Bowl appearance in 1994, and a series of strong years as a unit. In the mid-to-late-2000’s, the Steelers defense, although they were nickname-less, led them to two Super Bowl wins and three appearances, led by the likes of Troy Polamalu and Joey Porter.
The defenses have always on the forefront for this franchise, and with good reason; they have been some of the best defensive units in the history of the sport, with six players who would enter the Hall of Fame (Mel Blount, Jack Lambert, Kevin Greene, Jack Ham, Jack Lambert, and Rod Woodson), with plenty of other members deserving to go in, and other borderline Hall of Famers.
However, especially in the last few seasons, the offense has become the focal point of the Steelers franchise, and it shows. Current Steelers like Ben Roethlisberger, and Antonio Brown, and even Steelers in the not-so-distant past, such as Willie Parker, Hines Ward, and Heath Miller have their names all over the career record books, either as leaders or in the top five of their respective statistics.
These last two seasons especially show that the team can only go as far as their offense will take them. Their pass defense, as I wrote about in a previous article, has been a struggle, and their offense is what has gotten them to back to back playoff appearances and a 2014 AFC North Division title.
However, is their offense as elite as it seems? Let’s take a look at the 2015 statistics:
The 2015 Steelers had an interesting year on their way to a 10-6 record. Their Sc% (percentage of drives that end in any kind of offensive score), was the fifth highest in the NFL at 40.5%, just 2.7% behind the league leading New England Patriots. Their passing offense was excellent, as their ANY/A (read more about it here) was ninth in the NFL at 6.7, 1.3 yards behind the league leading Arizona Cardinals. The offensive line, which was a highly discussed issue, was solid, and protected Big Ben (and Michael Vick and Landry Jones, who had to play a few games due to injury) at an above-average rate, as evidenced by the 5.3 Sk% (percentage of sacks when attempting to pass), which was eleventh best in the league.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was 3.4 Int% (percentage of times the quarterback was intercepted on attempted passes), which was third highest in the league. Tom Brady had the lowest at 1.1%, which is incredible. Big Ben averaged the most yards per game at 328.2, had the second highest QBR at 76.86, behind Carson Palmer’s 82.15, and had the eighth highest AY/A at 7.8.
Their Red Zone Scoring Percentage (for touchdowns only) was 57.14%, which is 13th in the NFL.
Their rushing offense was not that far behind, averaging 4.4 Y/A (yards per attempt) which was eighth overall, just 0.4 points behind the leading Buffalo Bills. However, they turned the ball over a lot. Their TO% (percentage of drives ending in any kind of offensive turnover) the eleventh highest, at 13.7%. They did score at an above-average rate on the ground, with 16 touchdowns last season, 4.6 above the league average.
The offense was interesting. While the offense has plenty of statistics that support their elite status, they shoot themselves in the foot far too often with turnovers and an inability to score touchdowns in the red zone. While Roethlisberger is in the top ten (and up) on plenty of lists, he is 18th in the league in TD% (percentage on touchdowns thrown when attempting to pass). He was 20th in the league in pass attempts (albeit missing four games), so it shows a lack of ability to score touchdowns as an offense.
The Steelers, even with the loss of Martavis Bryant, have all the tools to run rampant all over the NFL this year. With all the weapons the Steelers have, plus the fact that their strength of schedule going into the year is tied for 23rd at .473, the Steelers should have a top three offense in the NFL. The only things that are holding them back from the elite to the elite of the elite, is turnovers and red zone efficiency.