The Pittsburgh Steelers defense is on the path to being special. They rank second in takeaways and fifth in sacks this season, turning their game to another level in Week 3 with the addition of safety Minkah Fitzpatrick.
The defense has all but carried an offense that ranks 28th in passing and 27th in rushing to a 4-4 record, after falling to 0-3 early in the season.
Unfortunately for the Steelers offense, the road is not going to get much easier this week with the Los Angelas Rams coming to town. The Rams are led by an offensive mind in Sean McVay, but their defense ranks fourth in DVOA this season, and they just recently acquired Pro Bowl corner Jalen Ramsey.
Once again, the Steelers are going to need their defense to steal a game. When looking at a McVay-led offense that won an NFC Championship just last season, this should be one of the tougher tests of their season.
However, there have been enough kinks in the Rams armor, where you can expect the defense to shine once again.
The Steelers currently rank second in the NFL in pressure rate. With Bud Dupree and T.J. Watt having career years along with the always steady Cam Heyward, this group has been getting after the quarterback more than most. This is especially worth noting with the Rams because the biggest question when it comes to the play of Jared Goff is how he handles pressure.
Goff has an elite NFL arm with great accuracy and anticipation. However, he is a completely different player when the pocket is clean, versus when he faces pressure. Last season he showed dramatic splits, and this year, the team has had issues replacing their center from a season ago while shuffling their guard play around. The issues in offensive line has seen an increase in pressure on Goff and a decrease in overall play. His completion rate, yards per attempt and touchdown rate are all down from a season ago.
The offensive line has been an issue, but the Rams have also faced some tough defenses. They have already played three teams that join the Steelers in the top five of pressure rate. The Steelers should be studying those three games to see how they got their pressure, and how Goff reacts.
In those three games, Goff is 60-101, a 60% completion rate. He averages 5.2 yards per attempt, with seven sacks, three touchdowns, and three interceptions. That is a 6.9% sack rate and a 3% touchdown and interception rate. That has led the Rams to score 19 points per game.
For his career, he is a 62% passes, averaging 7.7 yards per attempt, a 5.8% sack rate, 4.9% touchdown rate, and 2.1% interception rate. This season he is completing 61%, averaging 7.5 yards per attempt, 3.7% sack rate, 3.5% touchdown rate and 2.2% interception rate.
Those three games have a big impact in his numbers, specifically his yards per attempt, sack rate, and interception rate. In the three games where he has faced pressure the most 43% of the Rams passes have been successful. In their five other games, 49% of passes are successful. Since trading for Fitzpatrick, the Steelers allow 45% of passes to be successful. The Rams explosive plays also go from 5% in those three games to 13% in their other games. The Steelers allow 8% of passes to go for 15 or more yards this year, which ranks top eighth in the NFL.
The key to beating Goff is getting pressure on him and letting his hurried process lead to mistakes. This has been proven over the past two years. This year, the Rams are allowing more pressure, and the Steelers are one of the toughest tests they will face all season.
Can this above-average defense carry the below-average offense to an above-average record thanks to a win against what is perceived to be an elite Rams offense?