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- One of the few areas the Steelers lead the AFC North is with their record
One of the few areas the Steelers lead the AFC North is with their record
The Pittsburgh Steelers enter their 2023 bye week in a place that is familiar to the franchise but not as much with this most recent team— in first place in the AFC North. While the Steelers did have control of the division following Week 3 this season, after their loss to the Houston Texans it did not seem likely that the Steelers would be back on top of the North anytime soon. But an improbable win against the Ravens has the Steelers tied for the best overall record in the division and holding onto several key tiebreakers.
But while the Steelers might be at the top of the standings in the AFC North, that’s just about the only place they are leading the division at this time.
Although it seems improbable that a team with both the 30th ranked offense and the 30th ranked defense would be in a position to have a winning record, let alone lead their division, that’s exactly where the Pittsburgh Steelers find themselves at this time. For a quick recap, here is a breakdown of the AFC North standings heading into Week 6:
AFC North Standings:
Steelers: 3-2 overall, 2-0 division, 3-1 conference
Ravens: 3-2 overall, 2-1 division, 3-2 conference
Browns: 2-2 overall, 1-2 division, 2-2 conference
Bengals 2-3 overall, 0-2 division, 0-3 conference
With the Cleveland Browns coming off of their bye week in Week 5, they have the opportunity to pull even with the Steelers in the record department this week should they pull the upset against the San Francisco 49ers. And while they will have one more loss than the Steelers regardless of the outcome in Week 6, the Cincinnati Bengals are hoping to pull even in the win department as they take on the Seattle Seahawks. With the Bengals being 2–0 against the NFC at 0–3 against the AFC, they have more work to do to get back into the proper tiebreakers, let alone being able to match records with the division leaders.
With the Baltimore Ravens not having their bye week until Week 13, tie breakers are going to be off the table for quite some time between them and the Steelers has having identical records will not be possible until December. But with the Steelers holding both the head-to-head and division record tiebreakers against the Ravens and the Browns, they have positioned themselves nicely at this point of the season.
Unfortunately, the Steelers might be ahead of these teams in record, but they are behind most of the AFC North in many key statistical categories. To illustrate my point, let’s first look at where the Steelers rank in the AFC North offensively in yardage, points, yardage in the run game and passing game, as well as surrendering sacks and turning the football over. It should be noted that all of these statistics are on a per game basis as not all teams have played the same number of contests.
Rushing Yards: 3rd
Passing Yards: 3rd
Sacks Surrendered: 2nd
It should be noted that even though the Steelers are in the last place in the AFC North in points scored, this includes all points scored including their two defensive touchdowns. So taking these scores out of the equation, the Steelers can’t fall any lower in placement because there’s nowhere else to go.
It should also be noted that even though the Steelers are third in the AFC North in passing yards, they are only 1.2 yards per game (12 total yards) out of first place as the Ravens, Bengals, and Steelers all neck-and-neck when it comes to yards in the passing game. Unfortunately, the entire AFC North is at the bottom of the NFL in passing yards as the highest ranking team is 25th in the NFL.
Where the Steelers are coming in the highest in the division is protecting their quarterback as well as not turning the ball over where they are second in both categories. In other words, the Steelers offense does seem to have a focus on not surrendering splash plays to their opponent. But even though the Steelers are ranked second in the AFC North in both these categories, they are still 20th in the NFL in how often they have surrendered a sack and tied for 13th in the NFL in turning the ball over.
So if the offense is struggling, it’s had to be the defense that has kept the Steelers in things, right? Let’s check out those defensive rankings:
Rushing Yards: 3rd
Passing Yards: 4th
When it comes to ranks in the first four categories, the Steelers are actually lower in the AFC North than the offense as they are last in yards surrendered and passing yards.
Where this defense does thrive and what has allowed them to pull out a couple of their games is their ability to make splash plays. The Steelers are second in the AFC North in sacks only one behind Baltimore, and they have the most takeaways in the division with 11 which has them tied for third in the NFL.
Since many wanted to discredit the Steelers record over the last half of 2022 based on their opponents, then the opponents should be taken into consideration when looking at the Steelers first five games of 2023. While the Steelers are third in run defense in the AFC North and 28th in the NFL, they have faced three of the top five rushing offenses so far in their five games in 2023.
So how can the Steelers be ranked so low in the division in so many key statistical categories yet still be in first place? Ultimately, the Steelers numbers are skewed with both of their losses coming in the blowout variety. Giving up 30 points in both of their losses well only scoring six and seven points each, it has severely impacted some of their statistics.
What is more important when it comes to the Pittsburgh Steelers is realizing their shortcomings while still managing to win enough games to be in the lead for the division. While it’s great to be atop the AFC North, and the Steelers should still be singularly focused on improving on both sides of the ball as they come out of their bye week. The Steelers can’t get any higher in the AFC North than they are right now, but they certainly can improve the output on both offense and defense as the season goes on.