The Pessimist’s Take: Double-Digit Sack Pass Rushers

The Pittsburgh Steelers have, by and large, been on an upward swing over the course of the past two and a half seasons after they missed the playoffs for two straight seasons, and failed to win a postseason game in four straight years.

Last season saw them gain that elusive playoff victory, though they came up short with about three minutes left in the Divisional round a week later. Their offense took off, and their defense improved, showing playmaking ability and opportunism.

But there are still a lot of unanswered questions facing the team as we crack into free agency territory. As an exercise, we like to take a stab at some of those questions, presenting arguments for the pros and cons of each side of the coin. This is the pessimist’s take on the following question.

Question: Will the Steelers finally boast a 10-sack player again for the first time since the 2010 season?

As mentioned on the optimistic side of this discussion, the Steelers have not had a 10-sack player over the span of the past five seasons, but it was not until last season that that lack of singular production did not also coincide with a team-wide failure to produce pressure on the quarterback and translate that into sacks.

So this discussion is not necessarily about whether or not it’s necessary for the Steelers to be a successful defense by getting back to those double-digit sack numbers from specific players, but simply more about whether or not that sort of player is on the roster.

As the defense is currently formulated, it doesn’t appear likely that that player will come from the outside linebackers, as the Steelers began last season to rotate among four pass rushers from the spot in order to keep them fresh.

Even that effort wasn’t full productive, as only two outside linebackers registered at least five sacks, though Bud Dupree, who had four, might have the best shot at getting to 10, especially if he is able to command more playing time in year two. But that doesn’t seem likely.

The other likely source of the double-digit sack would obviously be the defensive ends, but even for Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt, it does almost seem as if that target is just slightly out of reach. Heyward’s career-best of 7.5 sacks in 2014 is still only three quarters of the way there. Tuitt recorded 6.5 sacks in 14 games last year.

The fact that the Steelers will be looking to spell their defensive ends more often this year also does no favors to the idea that they can reach the double-digit figure in reality. The defense seems to be formulated in such a way that the brunt of their front seven gets its share of rest.

The onus will once again be on the collective defense to manufacture the pressure piecemeal. They had 16 players contribute to their sack total last year, their most in decades, and I suspect that the number will be in the teens again this year, with no individual players hitting the 10 mark.

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