We looked at the offensive stats yesterday, and I asked you to weigh in.  Here are the defensive stats.  I’ve also added a little analysis today since I have some more time.

It’s clear that the strength of this team is the defensive line and the pass rush.  I am grading them an A, although you could argue for an A+.  They sack the quarterback better than 98% of teams in college football, and have more TFL’s than 92% of teams.  They are a big part of Pitt’s top-20 ranking against the run.  Average all three and hey, there’s your A. 

The linebackers get a B based on the stats on this page.  They are playing a big part in pass coverage, and have done a great job limiting our opponent’s short passing game.  That is a big part of why Pitt is better than 93% of teams when it comes to opponent’s passing efficiency.  The linebackers are also an integral part of Pitt’s 16th ranked run defense.  Pitt is better than 87% of teams when it comes to giving up yards on the ground.  Red zone defense is abysmal though.  Pitt is only better than 31% of teams when it comes to stopping teams inside their own 20.  While you can’t pin that on any one unit, I’d like to see the linebackers step up here.

Defensive backs get a B+.  They are doing a great job (along with the LB’s) in keeping opposing team’s passing games inefficient, but in order to earn an A they need to step up their third down defense.  Pitt is “only” better than 77% of teams in this area.  Get that up towards 90% and this defense would go from good to great.  Also – something not evident in the stats below, but very evident when you watch the games is Safety Play.  Hamlin and Ford are Pitt’s top two leading tacklers, and they’ve each defended four passes.  Yes, Hamlin was a little bit suspect in coverage early in the year, but he’s seemed to have cleaned that problem up.  Ford, as we all know, is just getting started.

There are four areas that need improvement in the second half (of games and of the season…):

  1. Red Zone Defense – Pitt is 88th out of 130.  This defense is so much better than that.
  2. Turnovers – Pitt is just slightly better than average.  The Duke game was a huge step in the right direction, but Pitt needs to continue to take away the ball.
  3. Scoring Defense – Pitt is better than 2/3 of the NCAA here, but given the talent and coaching, this defense needs to hold themselves to a higher standard.
  4. Fourth Down Defense – Maybe I’m picking nits here, but Pitt is 81st out of 130.  Again, given the talent on this defense, you’d expect this to be higher.

Defense – Overall Statistics

  • Total Defense:  298.7 YPG.  19th out of 130 – 85th Percentile.
  • Scoring Defense:  22.5 PPG.  43rd out of 130 – 67th Percentile.
  • Red Zone Defense:  88th out of 130 – 32nd Percentile
  • Rushing Defense:  97.0 YPG.  16th out of 130 – 88th Percentile
  • Team Passing Efficiency Defense:  105.62 (pass rating allowed).  9th out of 130 – 93rd Percentile.
  • 1st Down Defense (# of First Downs Allowed):  38.  25th out of 130 – 81st Percentile.
  • 3rd Down Conversion % Defense:  33.7%  (conversions allowed).  29th out of 130 –  78th Percentile.
  • 4th Down Conversion % Defense:  51.7% (conversions allowed).  81st out of 130 – 38th Percentile.


  • Turnovers Gained:  8.  54th out of 130 – 58th Percentile.
  • Fumbles Recovered:  3.  54th out of 130 – 58th Percentile.
  • Passes Intercepted:  5.  50th out of 130 – 62nd Percentile.


  • Team Sacks:  4.5 per game.  2nd out of 130 – 98th percentile.
  • Team Tackles For Loss:  8.2 per game.  10th out of 130 – 92nd Percentile.


Defense – Nationally Relevant Individual Statisics

Patrick Jones (DE)

  • 6th in Forced Fumbles.  (3)

Damarri Mathis (CB)

  • 23rd in Passes Defended (1.3 per game)

Dane Jackson (CB)

  • 37th in Passes Defended (1.2 per game)

Jaylen Twyman (DT)

  • 6th in Sacks (6.0)

Kylan Johnson (LB)

  • 44th In Sacks (4.0)

Hail to Pitt

Michaelangelo Monteleone

79 thoughts on “Midseason Grades – The Defense

  1. I’m giving the defense an A. They have been awesome so far. Just amazing to think how good they have been in spite of losing Weaver and camp.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pretty thorough analysis, Maestro … much more detailed than mine:

    Coaching: C+ Normally, a 4-2 record would rate a solid B or higher, especially since the 2 losses were expected, but a couple of bonehead decisions (PSU and Delaware) has lowered it almost a full grade.

    OL: D+ I really wasn’t expecting much in the first half of the season but thought we will have seen more improvement by now. The team could be really good this year if this unit steps up, but I have my doubts.

    WR/TE: B- Mack has been great, Ffrench has been a little disappointing as have been the TEs. I’m glad to see some young guys starting to contribute … Jacques-Louis, Butler-Jenkins, Wayne, etc.

    RB: C Nothing spectacular but not much running room. Would hope to see some breakaways in the 2nd half. But basically, the run game has been pretty much replaced by the short passing game, so my expectations are low.

    QB: B After a disastrous start, I have seen the improvement I was expecting. TP was really good at PSU and in the final minute at Duke, but his 2 INTs there necessitated his heroics.

    DL: A Among the nation’s leaders in sacks and pressures without arguably its 2 best players. Enough said

    LB: B K Johnson has been fantastic. Aside from the foolish penalty vs Delaware, Bright has really stepped up. Campbell has made some key plays. Reynolds has been injured but apparently Pine and Brightwell has been adequate at worst.

    DB: B+ If not for the PI penalties, I would give them an A-. But despite some injuries, this unit has played very well, especially when considering it has faced two of the most dynamic passing attacks in the NCAA.
    Special Teams: C Chrisodolou has been great; Kessman lousy. A punt return for TD given up to UCF, a blocked punt by UVa, and a fumbled punt vs Duke were all key plays. But a blocked punt by Matthews for a TD vs UCF and long punt return by Ffrench vs Duke were also key.

    Overall: B+ a 4-2 record when the team were underdogs in 4 of the 6 games should mean something

    Liked by 5 people

  3. I’ll keep it simple as I’m catching up after a week away.
    Offense C
    Defense A
    Team overall B.

    So here is my question: How does this team compare with the 2018 that finished the regular season 7-5? Better, worse, or about the same???

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think this team is better – better defense and less one-dimensional on offense.

      And as we’ve shown, this team can make big passing plays and score quicker.

      Now this team needs a nice second half run like what last year’s team did against Duke, UVA, VT, and Wake…
      And then extend it…

      Go Pitt.


      1. Unfortunately, Pitt is not a good 2nd half team. 🧐

        Overall grade based on ranking in the polls is a C-

        Defense gets a B- (need to shore up the Red Zone D, won the takeaway battle and less PI penalties.

        Offense gets a D+ until they figure out how to score. Tough to win when you can’t score nor run the ball, two obvious issues. Also, if you are a passing team, catch the ball or sit the player who drops the ball.

        Special Teams gets a C-. The punter is good, but having to punt too much. The kicker is having a bad year all the way around – FG’s, Extra points and KO’s. The back-up is a trueFR. The return game stinks, except for one Duke game return.

        Hoping the bye week fixes some of this mess. The record at 4-2 looks much better than the team actually is – just look at the polls.


        Liked by 1 person

  4. I agree John. Better on defense, the same but different on offense so far, Special teams about the same, and a little better in the intangible MOJO department.


  5. Next year Pitt should achieve 10 wins. Maybe this year its 9 which includes Narduzzi’s first bowl win ever as HC. My initial prognostication was 8 wins. But I like the way this team is trending and the Coastal is even weaker this year than last year.

    Pitt should have received votes in the Coaches poll. I guess HCPN has a tough time making friends?

    And Heather should be working the votes and not fretting over which yellow blouse she plans to wear at the next game.


    1. Few of the coaches vote. They pawn it off to a grad asst or and Associate AD.

      Win Friday and we will pick up some votes. Win at Cuse and at home vs the Canes and we crack the top 25.


  6. The line for the cuse game moved from Pitt being favored by 2.5 to 3.5 overnight.

    Pitt needs to get through the first half of the cuse game without Paris Ford. Duke went downfield over the middle immediately after Ford was ejected and scored.

    And let’s not forget Pitt is not a 2nd half team.

    If it is a shootout in the 1st half without P.Ford, then Pitt’s D will need to win the game. Then 3.5 may not be enough.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Iowa at 4-2 is ranked 23rd after wins over Middle Tennessee, Miami (OH), Rutgers and Iowa State (18-17).

    Their next 2 games are Purdue and NW (should be wins as both are weak this year) before taking on #6 Wisconsin.

    Is someone setting up the B10 to finally get a playoff team?

    Sure seems lyke it…hasn’t worked in the past, tOSU looks pretty good.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. How good could this defensive line have been with both Camp & Weaver being in that rotation? We’ll never know. The flip side of them not playing however, are guys like Morgan, Baldonado, Bentley & Alexandre have gotten valuable experience in their absence.

    Liked by 3 people

  9. I’m going to agree with the overall consensus and grade the entire team at a B too.

    Now for some wishful thinking and Kool-Aid drinking:

    Imagine if Pitt could marry this year’s defense with the Nate Peterman/Matt Canada offense. I really think that marriage would give Pitt a shot to make the 4 team playoffs.

    The reason I bring this up is Peterman/Canada era was only 3yrs ago. It’s been a long time since that Pitt was that close to putting it all together. There was no 3 to 4 year window in the Hackett, Majors II, Harris, Wannstedt, or Chryst era that I would say if Pitt had that combined group they could challenge to be top 4 in the country.

    I know would’ve could’ve and should’ve don’t amount to anything. That said maybe just maybe we are getting closer to putting together a year where Pitt gets into the Top 10. If we can bring back this year’s core defensive players, OL improves, and Pickett matures a bit more as QB Pitt could make real noise next season.

    I know I shouldn’t drink the Kool-Aid. If for no other reason than I’ve drank it before and got burned. Though this morning I just fill like some strawberry kiwi, so Ike pass the pitcher down my way after you top your glass off.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I agree with your “IF” scenario but the one thing Canada inherited was an O line loaded with talent including DJ, Bookser, Biz and O’Neil and add to that a bona fida TE…not so much with today’s team where we have a work in progress with lower rated players comparatively speaking…the STARS were aligned for Canada in 2016…I am glad we have Whip with this O…hoping we see continued growth in the runninbg and vertical passing game…we have more to offer O recruits today than what Watson selling the last couple of years……

      Liked by 2 people

  10. James Conner had an excellent game last night for the Steelers. TD rushing and TD receiving — and no fumbles…

    Broke a lot of tackles.

    Go Pitt.


  11. First, one last comment on the offense, how many games over the last ten years has Pitt lost because they could not complete a winning drive to finish a close game? This team has now done it three times with two QB’s. If I recall Tino never did it in four years. This is an incredible asset for a football team. One we have not had in a long time.

    In all three of those wins, the defense has finished the other team off, granted the clock was on their side, but Pitt has lost many games with seconds on the clock.

    Glass half full or half empty? We shall see, but the defense has been the strength of the team and put the offense in the position to make that final drive. It also kept Pitt in the games when the offense came up short.

    Where the offense’ biggest weakness is the running game, the defense’ biggest weakness is the red zone, especially after turnovers. This has to be mental and therefore correctable I am sure Pitt is working hard on it’s goal line defense.

    Another a big strength of the defense has been the depth. Most obvious is the line with the two best guys out for the season, but also linebacking has been without Pine and Reynolds and second string guys, although Dane Jackson has been first string before has filled in for the corners. Hopefully we get some guys back this week to overcome the loss of Ford for a half. In any case lots of guys are making plays on defense which has been key to their success.

    Overall speed has been another of the defenses assets, much better than we have seen for a long time, also fewer missed tackles and mental mistakes are being made.

    But it all starts up front and this team has been strong against the run and has the best pass rush in many years.

    This defense really is what we have been waiting for since Narduzzi’s arrival.

    Liked by 3 people

  12. Again, awesome job by the Maestro, these are the kind of articles I enjoy the most where we can talk about actual football and players, although Tx still got his shot in on Heather, let it go TX.

    Great to be doing analysis on good results for a change.

    I always believe that a team is only as good as it’s weakest link. It is really hard to find one on this defense, at least among the players. The red zone problems are evident, but it is difficult to figure out why?

    This team has so many difference makers and as Maestro points out many with national leading stats, but also Ford, Hamlin and Pinnock are making play after play. Guys like Baldonado and Alexander are making big plays.

    In the past we had few guys like Donald and Whitehead who you could point to. Now we have many guys and guys like Johnson who just blows plays up. When have you see ferocious hits and gang tackling like we have now?

    Truly a pleasure to watch these guys live up and beyond expectations.

    Liked by 4 people

  13. Turns out Narduzzi is somewhat of a defensive guru? If for no other reason that he was smart enough to hire a LBer coach from Northwestern to run his defense. Not to mention all the depth and skill his team of asst coaches and himself recruited. What does that extension look like now? I would try to extend him again ASAP!


      1. 🙂 How did you know I was directing that last comment at you?? Narduzzi isn’t going anywhere anytime soon Tx. …. Let’s see how the rest of the season plays out.


    1. I’m a strong lean in that direction. But, want to see how the season plays out. If the team were to go 2-4 down the stretch, I think there will be calls for his head – forces lurking in the DarkPOV will spring up like crocuses overnight. Just my opinion, but he needs and 8 win season and a bowl win and I’m in.

      I’m of the mind that every single one of these games in the 2nd half is going to challenge us indifferent ways and for different reasons. Every team has shown it can muster up something for a game, so there really cannot be any letdowns. Miami and UNC are the most crucial games as I think they will have the greatest impact on whether we finish 1, 2, 3 or 4 in the Coastal (we are in 4th right now). I expect those two teams to be in the hunt up to the end of the season. The rest of the year for both programs and UVA will be fun to watch and will either place roadblocks for Pitt or pave a path:

      UVA – has Duke, UNC and VT to play. Its possible they lose 2-3 of them.
      Miami has Duke and Pitt (although Lousiville lurks out there). If Miami wins all three of those, the could still grab the Coastal
      UNC has VT, UVA, Duke – and Pitt of course. And they hold the high cards vs Miami.

      If we could beat both UNC and Miami, I really like our chances at 8-9 wins. Ad who knows?…as much as I prefer that UVA go to Charlotte in Dec than Pitt, we are a better team this year than last and I think Clemson is not quite as dominant as they were. Might be a better game.

      Finish with 9 wins, a good showing against Clemson and a bowl win and I would not only extend Narduzzi, but I’d extend Lyke, despite the unfounded rumors regarding a potential penchant for selecting just the right blouse on game days.

      OK, Im going to back off that crazy talk for a bit and hope we show up for Syracuse Friday night.

      Liked by 4 people

          1. Ahh reminds me of all the times we used to talk about Steve Pederson’s shirt.

            Stimulating conversation

            Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes I’ve given the rankings and some computers a look and it’s crazy. Even though of all the ACC is .500 or better except for GT, the polls and computers do not think highly of the ACC (meanwhile, big 10 is the worst of the P5 with 4 teams under .500). I normally think Sagarin’s computer rankings are pretty solid, but this year it loves the Big 10 for some reason. OSU sitting at #1, Wisconsin 3, PSU 7. Mich St with 3 losses at #20. UCF is still top 25. Pitt sits at #51, which is 16 spots behind FCS North Dakota State.

      You will also see that, although our strength of schedule isn’t as brutal as some previous years, it’s still the 19th hardest schedule thus far based on Sagarin. In contrast, Penn State gas played the 64th hardest schedule.


      1. I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised though given that Sagarin factors in margin of victory. That favors a team like PSU that runs up the score.
        Factoring in scoring also aids OSU and Wisconsin given their lopsided victories.

        What is Pitt’s total margin of victory for the 4 wins? It isn’t much.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Pitt has actually scored fewer points than their competition with a winning record of 4-2.

          It’s hard to do that mathematically.


      2. Last year, Sagarin had Pitt with the 3rd or 4th hardest schedule … forgot which … but had them ranked below a handful of other ,500 teams … or teams with 8 wins with much easier schedules


  14. apittfan, as much as I agree with you, that’s just something PITT can’t control. Narduzzi is not into style points. Pat worries about today only and then worries about tomorrow, tonight.


  15. Margin of victory won’t be a good stat for us this year. Oh well, I’ll take the close wins any day.

    By the way, the Cathedral Commons has never looked that bright. Was just there a few weeks go, and it brought back some great old memories. I would advise anyone to do it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Fully agree and spend the money to get a Nationality Classrooms self-guided tour. They’ve added a few in recent years. Truly one of the Top 10 things to see when visiting Pittsburgh.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. Great assessment on both units, Maestro. Agree with your assessment.

    Thank God the bye week is over.
    I guess today is HCPN’s Syracuse presser?


  17. The B1G always gets the good PR, primarily due to tOSU always being highly rated and their other top echelon teams. Lots of history.

    The ACC is the new kid on the block, even though Clemson is a current powerhouse and FlSt won a championship recently. Big money talks, the B1G has the big stadiums and the history.

    The ACC has been pretty average after the top two. The relationship with ND helps very little.

    This is not likely to change until a few more ACC teams start to beat top twenty teams, and that isn’t likely since they play very few. Maybe the one reason to play tough OOC games.


  18. My vote: the Pitt D gets an A minus(minus only because of the red zone stats). The Pitt O get a C plus(plus only because of the game winning drives). As far as the rankings go one only has to look at the score from a game last Saturday ELON 42 DELAWARE 7 to maybe understand why Pitt may not be getting the respect some on the POV think they should.


    1. for that matter, Ohio U is not doing as well as expected. This is why I say Pitt needs to bring its A or B game every time it plays. It is not good enough not to … and all the penalties has got to stop


  19. The B1G is primarily large universities that support their teams unequivocally. In that vein, PSU and Nebraska were perfect pick-ups; Rutgers not so much.

    The B1G has the Philly market, a big part of the Balt-DC market, part of the Pgh market, The Cleveland-Columbus-Cincy market (I can personally vouch for the Cleveland market), the Detroit market, the Indianapolis market, a big part of the Chicago market, the Minneapolis – St Paul market …. the entire states of Wisconsin and Minnesota, and much of Iowa, Indiana, Mich and Illinois.

    I’m pretty sure the B1G gets more money from their TV tie-ins than does the SEC.

    And if you don’t think all of this has nothing to do with the polls, then …. well, I don’t what then


  20. Stealing a little from the Lair here as Hammett just posted the Baldonato and Alexandre were named co starters at DE this week. To say our Italian studs have come a long way both Baldanado and the Current Keeper of the POV is an understatement to say the least.

    Liked by 4 people

  21. Pitt needs to stop the run. Or they will suffer the same fate of the cowboys. Pitts D is very similar to the boyz. So who left on the schedule can run?


  22. Does anyone else think that if Pitt can keep their total penalty yardage under 50 each week and have zero turnovers we can run the table the rest of this season?


  23. Pitt Miami game scheduled for a noon start a week Saturday on ESPN or ESPN2. I really thought we would get a 3:30 or 7:30 start if Pitt beats Syracuse and Miami beats GT this week.


  24. So, to whom do we give the low marks (i.e., grades) for the penalties. Way too many. Do we give the D to the coaches or the players?

    Otherwise, I give the Defense an A. Red zone? Come on. Often they are stuck there because of a turnover. Otherwise, they are beasts.

    I give the Offense a B-. We have won four games. And, they did OK in the two losses. Line is developing.

    So, I am grading “on the curve.” I don’t expect perfection. It might even be boring. We would become like Alabama and tOSU fans.


    Liked by 2 people

    1. Tonight’s offering … “Special teams and everything else”. Stay tuned folks


  25. Heard that UVA’s top defensive player Bryce Hall is out for the season. Apparently, a gruesome leg injury Friday night. He stayed an extra yr to get his degree. Feel bad for him. Gonna hurt the Cav’s chances going fwd.


    1. Yea I saw that. He got hurt blocking on a punt return of all things. I get that you want everyone to be a team player but damn that seems like a waste of resources to put the # 1 CB in the country on the punt return team…and not as the returner. Sorry but that one is on mendenhall.

      Hope Bryce comes back strong and gets to realize his full NFL potential

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Hall’s injury cost VA the Miami game IMO. After he went down Miami was able to throw some cross field passes(behind the line of scrimmage) and Hall’s replacement who was playing off missed some tackles and Miami ended up making some big plays. if Hall’s in the game he locks down that WR and Miami doesn’t get those big plays offensively.

      Liked by 1 person

  26. As a 3 point favorite this week the odds makers are calling this game a toss up, not knowing what Pitt team will show up for the game. Let’s hope it’s not the same team that showed up against Delaware. Syracuse will be jacked up for a nationally televised game at home. I’m hoping Pitt’s up for the game as well and plays disciplined football absent their stupid penalties of their past games.


    1. Indeed. Cuse will have redemption on their minds and I hope our kids haven’t spent the past week reading their press clippings.


  27. Whenever we go 3-and-out (see Q3!), I consider that almost as momentum robbing as a turnover. MM, are there any stats on 3-and-outs I’d love to know if we are plus or minus in that stat!

    Also, what is so magical about Red Zone D? Are we playing conservatively? Or have the opponents figured out a weak spot on our D?

    Or, are most of the Red Zone appearances by the opposition a result of a turnover, and THEY are fired up, and WE are down?

    Inquiring minds want to know!


  28. jrn, my take is……….. the PITT backups beat the crap out of Delaware (physically) to the tune they didn’t have anything left for Elon, whoever Elon is? << at least that is my story and I don’t even know if I’m sticking to it…. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. The QB who started for Delaware against Elon was not the same QB who started against Pitt.

      Ike – Elon is located between Raleight, Chapel Hill, Durham area & Greensboro, NC. Saw the exit sign on drive home from the Duke game.

      Liked by 1 person

  29. Any POVerts heading to Syracuse on Friday? MissingWlat thinking about making the trip. (Only 2 hours for me)


  30. Any grade below a B+ for Pitt’s defense so far this year is just too unfair. This is undoubtedly the fastest D I have seen wearing Pitt uniforms is many, many years. The sacks and TFL stats tell the tale, speed kills.

    I also think that what has been under-rated is the improvement in Pitt’s tackling. I’m not seeing opponents running through arm tackles or QBs avoiding rushes anywhere as easily as has occurred over the past few years. But again, I think that is speed related.

    The DL and LBs are getting to the ball-carriers quicker and able to set their feet to make the tackle. Plus the overall improvement in speed is getting more helmets to the point of attack.

    The DBs across the board are showing great confidence and aggressiveness, something that hasn’t been seen for a long time. If Ford sticks for 2 more years (a big question mark) he will overshadow what I thought was a pretty average career by Whitehead. Can’t think of a single game where Whitehead was a game changer.

    If Pitt would stop making stupid turnovers in unfortunate spots the stats for this D would be even better.

    Liked by 1 person

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