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Strengths vs Weaknesses: How the Seahawks and Steelers Matchup

One of the first things I do when looking at how two teams matchup is to see how they rank in all five phases of the game: pass offense, rush offense, pass defense, run defense, and special teams. There are certain aspects I pay more attention to than others, but I like to start by seeing where the two teams strengths and weaknesses are, and how those collide. There are always some eye openers, and this week’s matchup between the Seahawks and Steelers is no exception.

Seahawks Offense vs Steelers Defense

The best way to read a chart like this is to look for where the ranking of the two teams differs the most. Obviously, the lower the rank, the better.

Seahawks offensive weaknesses vs Steelers defensive strengths

The two areas that continue to jump out for the Seahawks offense are red zone conversion percentage and sack percentage. The good news is the team has shown measurable progress in both areas of late.

Seattle ranks 8th in the NFL in opponent sack percentage over the last three games, giving up a total of just 4 sacks

The Seahawks have scored on 66% of the red zone chances in the last two games. That would rank 4th in the NFL if it was over a full season. They clearly have a long way to go, but there are signs of development in both areas.

Pittsburgh ranks 12th in both sack rate and red zone rate. That makes them slightly better than the average defense in those situations. The advantage for the Steelers that is more interesting is points allowed. They rank an impressive 6th in the NFL in points allowed, and the Seahawks have struggled to score.

Steelers defensive weaknesses vs Seahawks offensive strengths

A few interesting things pop up here. The biggest disparity (PIT ranks 28th vs SEA rank 4th) is in completion percentage. Keep following that pass defense thread, and a clear pattern emerges. The Steelers are 21st in opponent yards per attempt and 28th in pass yards allowed. Seattle is a 6th in yards per attempt, and would be far higher than 26th in passing yards if they passed the ball more often. There is plenty of reason to think the Steelers will have their hands full with the Seahawks pass offense. 

Pittsburgh’s problems in defending the pass have led to another big disparity in terms of yards per play and yards allowed per game. Seattle is top ten in both categories and the Steelers rank 23rd in each. It is hard to be strong in either of those categories if your pass defense is soft, as the Steelers clearly is.

The Seahawks strength on offense has been their run game. They are best in the NFL in rush yards per game and third in the NFL in yards per rush. The Steelers are strong defending the run, but perhaps not as strong as their #6 rank in rushing yards allowed would have you believe. They rank 11th in yards per rush, which is a much better gauge of run defense. Teams are likely passing more against the Steelers by choice due to their weakness there, which would artificially lower rushing attempts and yards.

Yards per carry tells us that for each rush attempt, regardless of how many, the Steelers are an above average run defense, not an elite one. 

Seattle has one of the best run offenses in football. Should they get traction against the Steelers on the ground, there is a good chance the Seahawks passing game will have one of their best games.

Steelers Offense vs Seahawks Defense


Steelers offensive strengths vs Seahawks defensive weaknesses

The advantages for the Steelers offense are not quite as pronounced as they were for the Seahawks offense. Granted, everything changes when Ben Roethlisberger is in the lineup. The Steelers have averaged 25.6 ppg in the games he has played versus 20.5 ppg in the games he did not. Still, the Seahawks defensive numbers are pretty high across the board, so finding a clear advantage is a bit tougher.
A key one will be the Steelers #1 rank in yards per rush. Seattle ranks 6th in opponent yards per rush, and will have to contain DeAngelo Williams if they hope to slow down the Steelers equally efficient passing offense. Pittsburgh is ranked 2nd in the NFL in yards per pass attempt. That has helped them to a #2 ranking overall in yards per play. This offense is about as efficient as they come this season. They face an almost equally efficient defense. 
The other sizable advantage for Pittsburgh is in the turnover department. Seahawks defenders simply have not been able to take the ball off of opposing teams. The Steelers are about average in turning the ball over (12th), but the Seahawks defense has been dismal (23rd). Interesting to note, though, the Steelers are ranked 26th in interception rate, and that is not about their backup quarterbacks. Roethlisberger has thrown seven interceptions and has a 3.3% interception rate, compared to Michael Vick’s one interception and 1.5% rate.

Steelers offensive weaknesses vs Seahawks defensive strengths

One of the biggest shocks was seeing such an efficient offense rank so poorly (25th) in 3rd down conversion rate. Seattle has been one of the best in the NFL in getting off the field on 3rd down despite what it may feel like for Seahawks fans. 
A closer inspection revealed that a lot of this was due to the inferior play of Vick and Landry Jones. The Steelers conversion percentage rises from 35% to 44% when Roethlisberger is the quarterback. Jones converted 33% of his third down chances, while Vick was abysmal 13.3%, per This looks like a false weakness. It is worth pointing out, though, that Roethlisberger has just one touchdown against three interceptions on 3rd down, and just an 85.1 passer rating.
Another surprise was the Steelers mediocre red zone play. Roethlisberger has sparkling numbers with seven touchdowns and no interceptions. In fact, all the Steelers QBs have fared well, with 10 total TDs and 0 total INTs in the red zone. The middling play is not the fault of the backup QBs. Pittsburgh’s red zone TD rate is 56% with Roethlisberger and 55.8% without. This has been the major reason this hyper-efficient offense is ranked just 12th in scoring. Seattle has one of the best red zone defenses in football, which could lead to more Steelers frustration.
Pittsburgh is among the worst in the league in protecting the passer, ranking 23rd in sack percentage. The Seahawks are one of the best at rushing the passer. That seems like a recipe for Steeler trouble. Once again, though, a lot of this is due to the play of Vick. He has been sacked an equal amount (10) to Roethlisberger despite dropping back 145 fewer times. His sack rate of 13% drags down the team number, while Roethlisberger is around 4%. Getting to Big Ben is not impossible, but it would be a stretch to call this a big advantage for Seattle.

Special Teams

Seahawks kicking vs Steelers returning


Steelers kicking vs Seahawks returning


The two teams appear mostly evenly matched in the coverage and return game. The one area of some separation is when the Steelers punt. Pittsburgh’s punter has one of the weakest averages in the NFL, and that combines with one of the weaker punt coverage units to make the Steelers a 27th ranked net yards per punt team. Seattle has not been great in this area despite having playmaker Tyler Lockett back there. Still, this Pittsburgh punt unit could be just what Lockett needs to get untracked again.

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