For as much as we might want to talk about how badly the Pittsburgh Steelers need to fix their secondary, the more important issue has to be figuring out a way to generate more, and more consistent, pressure on the quarterback in passing situations.
This past season, after finishing off strong in the final two home games to end the year totaling nine sacks, the Steelers cobbled together a rather unimpressive 33 sacks. That ranked as the seventh-fewest in the league, although it is fair to point out that two of the teams in the bottom five of that category made it to the postseason.
The year before, in which the Steelers went 8-8, they finished sixth-worst in the league, registering 34 sacks. In 2012, they recorded only 37, yet that somehow managed to rank them somewhere in the middle of the pack in what was clearly a down year for pass rushers.
For as much as the Seattle Seahawks’ ‘Legion of Boom’ secondary was discussed ad nauseum in stifling Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos offense in the last Super Bowl, it was the pressure that they generated—notching 44 sacks in 2013—that helped set up the secondary for success.
Before the Steelers can expect their defensive backfield to make a turnaround, they, too, must do a better job of setting them up for success. While they may have some intriguing pieces to that effect on the interior of the defense, it is their primary pressure generating positions that leave some concerns.
In 2014, the Steelers’ team leader in sacks was a defensive lineman for the first time in about a decade as Cameron Heyward recorded a career-high 7.5 sacks. Technically, he was tied for the team lead with outside linebacker Jason Worilds, who recorded 7.5 sacks as well, a half-sack off from his performance from the year before.
It was the return of James Harrison, playing in 11 games, that helped somewhat revitalize the pass rush in spurts. He was third on the team with 5.5 sacks, all of which came in three games, though he and Heyward were perhaps the most consistent in generating pressure for the team this year.
Neither Worilds nor Harrison are under contract for next year. Neither is Arthur Moats, who recorded four sacks and started most of the season at right outside linebacker, in a rotation, after Jarvis Jones’ injury.
Speaking of Jones, he may have recorded two sacks in the first three games of the season, neither of which were overly impressive, but when he returned, he offered seemingly little as a pass rusher, and the Steelers need him to be the future of the team in that department.
The Steelers will have to figure out some way to generate more pressure on the quarterback in 2015 after averaging only about 35 sacks per season over the last three years. Part of that decision will be made by determining who they choose to be a part of the formula next season.