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Steelers Film Room: Week 7 Defensive Sack Review

Entering the game against Kansas City on Sunday, the Steelers pass rush was expected to be a handful for a struggling Chiefs offensive line, even without Stephon Tuitt in the lineup. But instead the Pittsburgh front seven struggled to generate pressure early, finally resorting to some creativity to get to quarterback Alex Smith.

One of the underrated “biggest” plays of the game was Cam Heyward’s sack of Smith with just 21 seconds left in the first half. With the Chiefs sitting in field goal range at the Steelers 31-yard line, Keith Butler dialed up a stunt that would essentially take three points off the board for the home team.

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Ends up being a five-man rush against a seven-man protection, so the Chiefs are fully prepared to face an onslaught of rushers if necessary. Right tackle Jeff Allen wasn’t beaten often, but Arthur Moats counters him inside handily here, utilizing his punch to get the lineman’s set foot to open up completely.

That edge pressure, combined with Lawrence Timmons flying effort off the opposite side of the line, force Smith to step up in the pocket. Cam Heyward and Jarvis Jones are executing a stunt, with the outside linebacker coming all the way down the line of scrimmage to the strong A-gap, while the defensive end takes a wide loop to the outside.

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Left tackle Eric Fisher not only failed to communicate and pass Jones off inside, but he also doesn’t identify the looper (Heyward) until far too late, essentially opening up the C-gap to be exploited easily. Heyward, recognizing an unblocked path to the quarterback, sticks his foot in the ground and races upfield for the sack.

Simple enough stunt, but the scheme is only made successful by the edge pressure generated by Moats and Timmons. By forcing Smith to tuck the ball and step up in the pocket, the defenders essentially eliminate the opportunity to get rid of the ball, allowing Heyward to fill the throwing lane and complete the sack.

The five-yard loss forced Cairo Santos to try what would have been a career long 54-yard field that sailed wide right, keeping it a one-score, 9-3 game heading into the half.

The Steelers second sack also came on a big second down play, as Pittsburgh trailed 16-10 late in the third quarter. With the Chiefs facing a second-and-7 from their own 17 yard-line and the Steelers attempting to force a quick three-and-out, Butler turned to a Dick LeBeau staple: the dreaded Fire X Blitz.

Alex wrote about it earlier this week, so I’ll spare you the entire scheme, but basically it involves each inside linebacker coming on a blitz to the opposite A-gap. Fire X is a five-man pressure, with the edge rushers showing blitz before dropping into coverage. Its effectiveness is obvious, as interior pressure is truly a quarterback’s worst nightmare.

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Charcandrick West is releasing immediately into a Texas (angle) route, meaning the Chiefs have five blockers for five rushers. Both Timmons and Ryan Shazier disguise the blitz beautifully, as neither leave their stance until right as the ball is snapped.

The Chiefs are not anticipating the blitz at all, as center Mitch Morse turns to help left guard Ben Grubbs immediately with Steve McLendon. By not keeping his head on a swivel, Morse allows not only one, but both linebackers to get through the A-gaps unhindered, burying Smith before the quarterback even has a chance to get rid of the football.

3rd-and-14 is a tough spot for any offense, but especially Kansas City’s dink-and-dunk attack. The sack was big momentum sustainer for the Steelers, giving the offense the ball back to start the fourth quarter with a chance to tie the game. Obviously that didn’t happen, but credit Butler and the defense for getting timely results with their pass rush when needed. With Tuitt hopefully back in the lineup this Sunday to take on one of the best offensive lines in football, the Steelers will undoubtedly need more where that came from against Cincinnati.

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