Over the course of the past four games, the Pittsburgh Steelers have had more success than anybody else in the entire league in terms of bringing down the opposing team’s quarterback. Make of that what you will, but the fact of the matter is that this is a statistical truth. Their 18 sacks over the span of the past four weeks—an average of 4.5 sacks per game—is the best in the league.
And the Cincinnati Bengals are not exactly an imposing offensive line to go up against this year. Their 36 sacks allowed is the sixth-most in the league, and a far cry from their efficient pass protection that they had just a year ago. Andy Dalton has taken seven sacks in just the past three games, including four sacks against the Browns on Sunday.
Even if you take out the seven-sack abomination that the Bengals started the season with, Cincinnati is still averaging nearly two and a half sacks taken per game. in total, they have given up at least three sacks in a game eight times in their 13 games played this season.
What is the big difference between last year and this year? Well, for starters, they had a change in the starting lineup. Andre Smith, their right tackle, left in free agency. They tried to replace him with 2015 first-round draft pick Cedric Ogbuehi, who was just recently benched in favor of veteran Eric Winston because he was not getting the job done. That was prior to the four sacks given up on Sunday, by the way.
While Andrew Whitworth has been his usual self this year, however, the Bengals’ interior offensive line has taken a step back in terms of pass protection, especially at the center position, and that, combined with the decreased efficiency that comes with personnel shuffling, producing longer throwing times, has been the catalyst for Dalton taking a beating in comparison to most of the rest of his career.
Dalton started all 16 games in each of his first four seasons. While he did take 46 sacks in his second year, he took fewer than 30 in each of the other three years. Last season, in 13 games, he only took 20 sacks. He has played the same number of games at this point in 2016, but has taken 80 percent more sacks.
Oh, and by the way, three of the Steelers’ past four games have been on the road, so they have been getting this sack production away from Heinz Field. In fact, their one home game in that span only produced two sacks. So the fact that this game is in Cincinnati does not disfavor them continuing to successfully get after the quarterback.
Three sacks in that span came from James Harrison. Stephon Tuitt has chipped in another three. Bud Dupree got two and a half for himself on Sunday. Ryan Shazier added two. Javon Hargrave had two in the first two games before his concussion. Arthur Moats, Lawrence Timmons, Ricardo Mathews, William Gay, and Sean Davis chipped in as well, dividing 18 sacks by 10 contributors.