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Steelers

Four Downs: An inside look at key numbers in the Steelers-Jaguars matchup

Chris Adamski
| Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018, 6:48 p.m.
The Steelers' Sean Davis stops Lions running back Theo Riddick on fourth down in the fourth quarter Sunday, Oct. 29, 2017 at Ford Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Steelers' Sean Davis stops Lions running back Theo Riddick on fourth down in the fourth quarter Sunday, Oct. 29, 2017 at Ford Field.

1. NOT-BLITZBURGH

The Steelers led the NFL in — and broke a franchise record for — sacks this season with 56. What might be most impressive is they did it while blitzing at a rate among the lowest in the league.

According to ESPN's NFL Matchup, for example, the Steelers blitzed just 14 percent of the time on third down, a figure it called “very low” and would rank as the lowest rate in the league for all downs.

So why, you might ask, were players such as cornerback Mike Hilton and inside linebacker Vince Williams — nontraditional pass rushers — able to collect so many sacks on so few blitzes? Because the definition of “blitz” is simply the act of sending five or more players on a pass rush. In part because of T.J. Watt's coverage skills, the Steelers often were able to stick with a four-man rush — just not, per se, the four expected rushers.

2. ELITE OFFENSE

According to Footballoutsiders.com's in-depth metrics, the Steelers ranked fourth in the NFL in yards per drive (35.62), fifth in points per drive (2.27), third in plays per drive (6.25), second in possession time per drive (2:57) and fourth in “drive success rate” (72.5 percent of meaningful down series resulted in a first down or touchdown).

Individually, the Steelers were also the only team to have all of its top relevant offensive players/units rank among the top seven in the NFL at their position. The offensive line was No. 7 in adjusted yards gained (No. 1 in passblocking). Ben Roethlisberger and Le'Veon Bell ranked fifth among NFL quarterbacks and running backs, respectively, in Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement. And two Steelers were in the top six NFL receivers in DAYAR: Antonio Brown was No. 1, but would you believe JuJu Smith-Schuster as the NFL's sixth-best receiver?

3. TACKLEMASTER

We knew the Steelers would have a new season leader in tackles for the first time in five years. What we didn't know, though, was that it wouldn't be a linebacker. Safety Sean Davis led in total tackles (92) and in primary tackles (71), according to NFL.com's accounting. Since 2001, this is just the third time a non-linebacker led the Steelers in total tackles and just the fifth time it was not an inside linebacker.

Lawrence Timmons led the Steelers in tackles each of the four prior seasons and five times overall. Safeties Ryan Clark (2011) and Troy Polamalu (2004) are the only other defensive backs to lead the Steelers in tackles since 2001. Davis' designation comes with a giant caveat: Ryan Shazier played in just 11 ¼ games before his spinal injury. Shazier finished with only three fewer total tackles than Davis.

4. GOOD ROUND

Since Three Rivers Stadium's opening, the Steelers are 12-1 at home in the divisional round, the only loss coming 25 years ago to Buffalo. The Steelers have won seven consecutive divisional home games (4-0 at Heinz Field). The Steelers are 8-4 overall at Heinz Field in the postseason. They've won five of six, though, since a January 2008 loss to Jacksonville.

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