While the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense has plenty of flaws, such as ranking 25th in the NFL in total yards allowed, it creates splash. Let’s start with some total numbers before we dive deeper.
Pittsburgh is tied for sixth with 10 interceptions through Week 10, a solid number in itself that contributes to the Steelers tying for the league-lead in takeaways (18). In terms of red-zone defense, the Steelers have allowed a 40.7 scoring percentage, which ranks impressively as well at fourth.
These numbers are a big reason why the team is 6-3, and diving deeper emphasizes an even bigger clutch nature to the Steelers’ play.
Let’s look at interceptions in the red zone around the NFL:
The Steelers have the most red-zone interceptions in 2023 with four, providing key takeaways when opponents get into scoring position. Of the 20 defenses that have a red-zone interception, Pittsburgh has allowed the fourth-fewest plays (103), an accomplishment in itself, for a whopping 3.9 red-zone interception rate that comfortably leads the league. Impressively, that is over a full percentage point above any other team, with the Rams in second (2.7).
Last game was the ultimate example, with S Damontae Kazee picking off a pass on the goal line to seal the victory on the final play of the game. Similarly, it was LB Kwon Alexander who came up big in Week Nine, making the play on the final drive as well. The third pick came in Week Eight, meaning the Steelers have a red-zone interception in three straight games, with Kazee making that play as well. He did make the poor decision to run it out of the end zone for a minimal return but coming up with two interceptions when the defense’s back was against the wall deserves major props.
The first occurrence was in Week Five against the Ravens, with rookie CB Joey Porter Jr. making that play in the end zone, a “coming out party” for more playing time that has been refreshingly strong overall. So, the clutch element of the defense in these terms has been more recent, with each red-zone interception coming in the last five games and none in the first four. Here’s to hoping that hot streak continues.
Even more impressive is looking at what points of the game the defense’s red-zone interceptions have come. Here are teams’ fourth-quarter red-zone interceptions:
The list of teams dwindles to 11, and we see three of Pittsburgh’s four red-zone interceptions came in the fourth quarter (Porter, Alexander, Kazee) at a whopping 12.0 percent! We see they leapfrog the rest of the NFL, with the Chargers ranking second, at a low 4.3 rate in comparison. No other team has multiple red-zone interceptions in the fourth quarter. Pittsburgh has allowed only 25 fourth-quarter red-zone plays, impressively tying for the least of this group.
This really emphasizes the clutch factor we’ve been discussing recently at Steelers Depot and adds comparative context to how impressive it is compared to league numbers. Bravo to the defense, which has been paramount and often in the driver’s seat of Pittsburgh’s success. Also, all three of the fourth-quarter interceptions have come in the final five minutes and, most importantly, led to victories. Here’s to hoping for more clutch play from the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense the rest of the way considering how often the team is in close games to the wire.
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