- Jamison Hensley, ESPN Staff Writer
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The AFC North blog wants to extend a Happy Fourth of July to everyone. As you can see, there is no wake-up call today. Instead, in the spirit of the holiday known for fireworks, I decided to look at explosive plays. When it comes to the AFC North defenses, they are all among the best at limiting long-distance passes.
The Pittsburgh Steelers were the best last season in shutting down big plays in the passing game. The Steelers were the only team in the league that did not allow a completion on a pass that traveled more than 30 yards in the air, according to Stats & Information. In comparison, the Houston Texans gave up 15 completions on such throws on 31 attempts. That's a league-worst 48.4 percent completion rate, and explains why the Texans signed safety Ed Reed this offseason.
Quarterbacks certainly tested Pittsburgh, attempting 30 of those throws against the Steelers. Only the New York Jets (35 attempts) and Texans (31) had more thrown against them. But, despite safety Troy Polamalu missing nine games, the Steelers became the first team not to allow a completion on a throw over 30 yards in the five years that ESPN Stats & Information has been tracking this.
The rest of the division didn't allow quarterbacks to complete one-quarter of those throws: the Cleveland Browns (17.2 percent), Cincinnati Bengals (21.1 percent) and Baltimore Ravens (21.4 percent). All four AFC North teams ranked in the top seven in the NFL in lowest completion rate on throws over 30 yards.
The Bengals gave up the second-fewest completions on those throws, but three of those four completions resulted in touchdowns. The Browns intercepted three passes on those throws, best in the division. And the Ravens were one of 10 teams to allow one or no touchdowns on throws over 30 yards in the air, and it will be interesting to see how that number changes with two new starting safeties this season.