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The Steelers Defense: Prone to Fourth Quarter Letdowns? The Numbers Suggest Otherwise

September 6, 2012

Ron Lippock:

We’ve seen the players, media and fans speak to the issue. The fact the Steelers’ defense falters in the fourth quarter, letting up leads and losing games.

It sure feels that way after suffering end-of-game scores that led to losses last season to Baltimore and Denver.

But, the facts belie the feeling.

Of the top three defenses in the NFL in 2011- Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Baltimore, according to ESPN’s drive charts, the percent of drives that led to scores (excluding “drives” with unreasonable scoring expectations – like 30 seconds left before the half on one’s own 20) for each team is as follows:

Across all four quarters:

San Francisco: 25%
Pittsburgh: 26%
Baltimore: 28%

On fourth quarter drives:

Pittsburgh: 26%
Baltimore: 28%
San Francisco: 33%

On fourth quarter drives where the game is within 14 points(and there’s still time enough to won – excludes scores that bring it to a once score game with seconds left on the clock, for example):

San Francisco: 26%
Pittsburgh: 29%
Baltimore: 33%

While the team slips slightly (by 3%) when the game is close in the 4th quarter, the numbers still show Pittsburgh’s defense is stout in the fourth – as much so as the other leaders. Just a couple stinging losses don’t make it feel that way.

It is interesting to note that most defenses slip percentage-wise in the 4th quarter in close games as offenses become more pass-oriented….


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