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Analyzing Teryl Austin’s Defensive Rankings, Make It Or Break It Year?

This offseason has been filled with so many questionable moves and it’s only February. The Pittsburgh Steelers made it clear that they want to keep defensive coordinator Teryl Austin on their coaching staff in 2024 by signing him to a contract extension in early February. The 58-year-old defensive coordinator could be in a make it or break it year with the organization.

I wouldn’t ask too many Steelers fans what their opinions are about Austin as it could get ugly quick. A long time collegiate and NFL assistant coach, Austin has been a coordinator at the NFL level for three organizations – Detroit Lions (2014-2017), Cincinnati Bengals (2018), and the Pittsburgh Steelers (2022- Present). In all three of his NFL stops, there have been highlights and lowlights.

As a reasonable fan of the sport, we are going to analyze his defensive rankings as coordinator and then leave it up to the fan base to decide if Coach Austin has been given too many opportunities to prove his worth while still leading the black and gold.

Austin’s Defensive Rankings – Lions (2014-2017)

Lions 2014 Season: 

Record: 11-5 Defensive Ranking: 2nd (Entire Defense) Total Points: 282 Pts/G: 17.6

Rush Yards Allowed: 1,109 Pass Yards: 3,706 Total Yards: 4,815 Yards Per Game: 300.9

Lions 2015 Season: 

Record: 7-9 Defensive Ranking: 18th (Entire Defense) Total Points: 400 Pts/G: 25.0

Rush Yards Allowed: 1,808 Pass Yards: 3,786 Total Yards: 5,594 Yards Per Game: 349.6

Lions 2016 Season: 

Record: 9-7 Defensive Ranking: 18th (Again) (Entire Defense) Total Points: 358 Pts/G: 22.4

Rush Yards Allowed: 1,701 Pass Yards: 3,975 Total Yards: 5,676 Yards Per Game: 354.8

Lions 2017 Season: 

Record: 9-7 Defensive Ranking: 27th (Entire Defense) Total Points: 376 Pts/G: 23.5

Rush Yards Allowed: 1,800 Pass Yards: 3,892 Total Yards: 5,692 Yards Per Game: 355.8

Total Defense Recap: 2nd, 18th, 18th, 27th 

Austin’s Defensive Rankings – Bengals (2018) 

Bengals 2018 Season: 

Record: 6-10 Defensive Ranking: 32nd (Entire Defense) Total Points: 455 Pts/G: 28.4

Rush Yards Allowed: 2,204 Pass Yards: 4,414 Total Yards: 6,618 Yards Per Game: 413.6

Total Defense Recap: 32nd 

Important Note: Austin was relieved of his duties as defensive coordinator after allowing an NFL record 500+ yards in three straight games (Chiefs, Buccaneers and Saints).

Austin’s Defensive Rankings – Steelers (2022 – Present) 

Steelers 2022 Season: 

Record: 9-8 Defensive Ranking: 13th (Entire Defense) Total Points: 346 Pts/G: 20.4

Rush Yards Allowed: 1,838 Pass Yards: 3,779 Total Yards: 5,617 Yards Per Game: 330.4

Steelers 2023 Season: 

Record: 10-7 Defensive Ranking: 21st (Entire Defense) Total Points: 324 Pts/G: 19.1

Rush Yards Allowed: 1,956 Pass Yards: 3,860 Total Yards: 5,816 Yards Per Game: 342.1

Total Defense Recap: 13th, 21st 

Austin Analysis: 

Here is the harsh reality about professional sports, and really real life, – if you cannot perform, you will be relieved of your duties. We recently witnessed Steve Wilks get let go as defensive coordinator of the 49ers, a defense that was ranked fourth in scoring defense and allowing just 18.8 points per game.

While the situation seemed to be the wrong fit for the 49ers, and Wilks’ strong personality just didn’t mesh well with Shanahan, my point is that Coach Austin and his track record has not been the strongest over the years. The result? A new contract extension? It is quite puzzling to many fans and analysts but there could be a simple explanation.

While the Steelers ranked 21st overall in 2023, they did tie the NFL in interceptions with 20 and made splash plays at times. The defensive production without T.J. Watt struggled and the team is still trying to register key wins without Watt in the lineup.

Coach Austin was on his last year of his contract before the extension came through and many individuals believe that the organization wanted some continuity between their players and coaches rather than completely clean house. With the offensive coordinator position a prime area of concern, I am assuming that Tomlin and Mr. Rooney preferred to have a familiar face on the defensive side of the football for the players.

In retrospect, 13th and 21st total rankings is not the worst we have seen in the NFL, but it is middle of the road and something that is not what the fanbase demands and expects out of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Another possible reason for the extension is the amount of injuries on the defensive side of the football and how Austin and his coaching staff managed to survive and adjust at times. With injuries to T.J. Watt, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Cameron Heyward, Cole Holcomb, Kwon Alexander, and so many more focal players, expect a make it or break it year for Austin in 2024 with his players fully healthy.

Taking a look at the defensive rankings throughout his career, his best came in his first season as an NFL play-caller. The Lions finished with a league ranked 2nd NFL overall defense before losing in heartbreaking fashion in the NFC Wildcard to the Dallas Cowboys. Ever since that exact moment a decade ago, Austin is still trying to secure a top 5 defense. His rankings since then are 18th, 18th, 27th, 32nd, 13th, 21st — just not good enough in a performance and production business.

As Mike Tomlin always says, “We’re not in the business of living in the past. We’re in the business of making progress.” Well, it is time to make that positive progress and improve the defensive rankings and production in 2024. The time is up and there shall be no more excuses.

Your Take: 

I understand this could be a hot topic and something that many people could be mixed on; however, I would very much enjoy hearing your thoughts in our comment section below. In what I believe is a make it or break it year for Coach Austin, could he steer the Steelers defense back into the right direction? Or will this team be heading straight toward an icy ice berg? You decide.


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