The Pittsburgh Steelers have failed to register more than 37 sacks on defense over the course of the last four seasons and according to defensive line coach John Mitchell, that statistical category will only improve if the unit can fix another important one that they have struggled in the last four seasons.
“A lot of times guys say that you need sacks and all of that but I’m not a big sack guy for this reason. If you don’t stop the run in the National Football League, you aren’t going to have the chance to get sacks,” said Mitchell following the selection of Central Michigan defensive tackle L.T Walton Saturday evening.
“Good football teams are physical and play well at the point and stop the run. That’s what I tell my guys. When we stop the run we’ve got enough in our arsenal, to put pressure on the quarterback. You look, in the National Football League, look at teams that have a lot of sacks and a lot of those teams didn’t make the playoffs because they couldn’t stop the run.”
Last season, the Steelers allowed 4.36 yards per rush and while the defensive line players that ended the year on the 53 man roster are unlikely to change this upcoming season, Mitchell believes his entire defensive line will be improved in that area.
“Cam Heyward is coming along, Steve McLendon is going to be a better football player and I like where Dan McCullers is right now,” said Mitchell. “I asked for Clifton Geathers and others to come back, so I’m really happy right now. I have some guys with athletic ability, I have some guys that can do the things we are going to require them to do and they should be better at.”
Mitchell was asked specifically about the progress of defensive end Stephon Tuitt, who was drafted last year in the second round.
“I think his maturity and being around good football players, understanding what we are asking him to do, I think he is going to be a better football player because he’s here right now. I’m excited to have the opportunity to work with him again.’
Additionally, Mitchell also wanted to remind everyone about how young Tuitt is and that he came into the league after his junior season at Notre Dame.
“You have to realize, he misses a lot of things, said Mitchell of Tuitt. “A lot of times people don’t realize last year that guy was a senior in college. You expect the mistakes he made, those are mistakes you make senior year in college. He is playing in the NFL against guys who have been in the league 5, 10 and 15 years, and he did a good job.
“It took him a little while longer to pick up our scheme, and understand what we are going to do, but you have to realize, he was a young man who just turned 20 years old and he would have been a senior last year at Notre Dame.”
As far as Walton goes, who the Steelers drafted with the first of their two sixth-round selections, Mitchell believes he has two redeeming qualities about him.
“I’ll tell you, he’s a guy that stays on his feet and that’s the most important thing for a defensive lineman, said Mitchell. “He has a good motor and runs to the ball. The things that he is going to have to learn how to do a little bit better is use his hands, get off blocks, and be a little more physical at the point of a tackle. When you can get a guy 6-4, 319 – that can run and stay on his feet that’s a big plus.”
Three of the Steelers first four opponents in 2015 averaged at least 4.14 yards per rush last season and shockingly the team that didn’t hit that average are the New England Patriots, who Pittsburgh will open the regular-season against on the road.