Steel Curtain Network: A Pittsburgh Steelers podcast

3 numbers that don’t mean as much to the Steelers as they do their critics

The 2023 Pittsburgh Steelers are far from a polished product. Despite their 5–3 record, the Steelers have many areas in which they need to improve as they roll into the second half of the season. While some have made a big deal over certain numbers with the Pittsburgh Steelers, which do you tell part of the story, looking at them as the overall success or failure of the team is putting too much value on secondary items.

On the most recent episode of the Steelers Stat Geek podcast, I discussed numbers that ultimately matter, and, more importantly, those that do not when it comes to the overall judgment of this year’s Steelers team. To show more of what I was talking about, here are three numbers which many are wanting to make a big deal about which ultimately undermine the numbers that really matter.

Being Outgained in Yardage

For those who may have not heard this nugget of information going around, the Pittsburgh Steelers are the first team in the Super Bowl era to go through their first eight games were they were out gained in total yardage each game and yet have a winning record. Butt is this the way the statement really should be made? Isn’t it taking the important information and putting it as a byproduct?

“The Pittsburgh Steelers have a winning record through eight games yet have been outgained in yardage in every contest.”

I know these two things are basically the same, but the important thing isn’t the team that has more yards in a game. When the clock hits 0:00 at the end of the fourth quarter, the victory is not awarded to the team that has gained the most yards. It’s awarded to the team that has more points than the other team. So while yardage can and should aid in scoring points, it is not the ultimate goal.

A good example of this would be running for President of the United States. Is the goal in winning the presidency to win the popular vote? It is not. It’s to win the electoral college. So looking at the winner of the popular vote does tell part of the story, but neither candidate is trying to achieve that goal, because ultimately that is not the goal that decides the winner.

If the Pittsburgh Steelers were to outgain their opponent in yardage, it would give them a better chance of winning the game. But it is not the ultimate determining factor. In fact, the Steelers have had multiple games this season where they could have won the yardage battle but used the philosophy of giving up more yardage for the sake of running clock in order to preserve a lead. Had the Steelers gone all-in to stop the team from getting any yards, they might have won the yardage battle. On the other hand, he could have left themselves susceptible to losing both the yardage and  points advantage if they unwisely did not protect against a big play.

The 400-yard streak

This number carries a lot of the same arguments as the previous one, but it’s also something worth noting. The Steelers have not reached 400 yards of offense during a regular season game since Week 2 of the 2020 season. Much has been made that the Steelers have never had 400 yards of offense with Matt Canada as the offensive coordinator. While gaining 400 yards of offense in a game is great, once again it is not the measuring stick to win a football game.

A counter example of this is quite easy. Notice the streak that goes back to 2020 is only for the regular season. During the 2020 postseason, the Steelers had more than 400 yards of offense. In fact, they had more than 500 yards of offense. But did it lead to a victory? It did not. Too many other factors in the game had the Steelers trailing to the Browns very quickly and never being able to catch up.

So were the Browns really failures in that playoff game because they allowed the Steelers to rack up 553 yards of offense to their own 390 yards? Of course not. They won the game 48–37. That’s all that mattered.

While gaining 400 yards of offense is often a good look for an offense, most of the time high yardage amounts are dictated by the style of play based on game circumstance. Believe it or not, the best opportunity the Steelers have had to gain 400 yards of offense were probably in their two blow out losses earlier this season, or the two from last season, to where they would have played a style that could have been able to reach this mark. But looking at those numbers out of context does not paint the right picture.

Scoring 30 points

Another place where some are critical about the Steelers this season is the fact they have not scored 30 points. In fact, the Steelers have only scored 30 points once over the last two seasons.

If looking for a significant streak, the Steelers have gone 51 games including the postseason in which they have not scored 30 points in a victory. For many, this is a number that will continue to haunt the Steelers and not allow them to see any kind of success.

But hidden within that statistic is that the Steelers have scored 30 points three times over those 51 games. So why did the streak continue? Because it was scoring 30 points in a victory. The last three times the Steelers have scored 30 or more points in the game, they’ve lost.

I don’t know about you, but I would much rather see the Steelers win a game not reaching 30 points them to lose one where they did. Yes, scoring points does make for more exciting football, and it is nice to be excited as a fan. But even playing exciting football gets old if the team is not winning.

It’s not that these three areas are completely void of importance. Yes, it would be beneficial for the Steelers to outgain their opponents in yardage in a game. Yes, it would likely be a good thing for the Steelers to reach 400 yards of offense. Yes, scoring 30 points in a game would potentially increase one’s chance of victory. But none of these are certainties.

The only thing that is certain is the Pittsburgh Steelers have managed to win five of their eight games to start the 2023 season. Whether or not the Steelers are ahead in a key statistical area or if they have managed to reach some benchmark that’s deemed to be “successful,” is irrelevant.

We live in an age where we have all kinds of insane stats at our fingertips. Whether it’s NextGEN passing charts, DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average), or RYOE (rushing yards over expected), these are things that are used to evaluate performances and bring about areas for growth. But when it comes down to the most important numbers of them all, it’s simply wins and losses.

To hear more on this subject, check out the most recent episode of the Steelers Stat Geek podcast below:

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