Analytics love the 2020 Steelers defense

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PITTSBURGH (93.7 The Fan) — The Steelers are already off to a hot start.

They are 3-0 after all.

And maybe it’s even a little bit better than what many people imagined.

The Steelers played the likes of Deshaun Watson last week and managed to eke out a late, one-score victory against Houston after trailing for most of the game.

So it’s not like they’ve all been freebies.

But now that the dust has settled, the analytics mavens have come out and gleaned through the action looking for kernels to showcase their models.

And like a remora suctioned to a great white shark, the analysts have picked at all the raw data, repackaged it into useful information, and presented their regressions on the teams, games, rosters, schedule and outcomes thus far.

And as far as favorable Steelers’ stats go, you don't have to look much further than one of the earliest proponents and pinnacle operations in Pro Football Focus.

They’re almost a household name at this point.

And as it turns out, PFF has plenty of love for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

One of their metrics has rated both Tyson Alualu and Cam Heyward in the top five interior defenders.

Alualu graded out with a 91.3, and Heyward was given an 85.2.

What’s also extremely important to note about the grades here is their rankings.

Heyward came in at fifth in the league with his 85.2, but Alualu is in first with his score.

You read that right.

PFF has graded Tyson Alualu as the top-ranked interior defender in the NFL, even ahead of Aaron Donald.

What’s a reasonable response to that?

I don’t figure there were many people jumping up on the soapbox to argue for Alualu being better than Donald, but here we are.

And while it might be the most extreme example through Week 3 of the season, there are plenty more metrics to showcase the Steelers as one of the darlings.

The Steelers are also leading the league in pressure percentage with 50%.

Here’s the clincher.

No other team has even hit 40%.

But let’s keep rolling through these.

T.J. Watt rated fourth in the league in total pressures, according to PFF.

The AFC Defensive Player of the Month landed in the top five of PFF's pressure rankings, but he found himself in familiar company because Bud Dupree and Stephon Tuitt are tied for fifth place right behind him.

Cam Heyward is nipping at their heels in ninth.

As far as actual pressures go, Watt has 18 so far.

Dupree and Tuitt have 17 apiece, and Heyward has 14.

The Steelers have four defenders in the top ten for pressures.

But there’s more.

At least through Week 2, Watt was the highest rated defensive player in 2020.

There’s no reason to think that things will derail, either.

Sure, the Steelers-Titans game was postponed, and the bye week is gone.

There are worse circumstances that could have surfaced from a league operating in a pandemic, though.

But for now, the Steelers have the fortune of being an analytics gold mine, and whether or not it has predictive implications will unfurl throughout the rest of 2020.

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