The 2016 season is unfortunately over, and the Pittsburgh Steelers are now embarking upon their latest offseason journey, heading back to the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, formerly known and still referred to as the ‘South Side’ facility of Heinz Field. While the postseason is now behind us, there is plenty left to discuss.
And there are plenty of questions left unanswered as well. The offseason is just really the beginning phase of the answer-seeking process, which is lasts all the way through the Super Bowl for teams fortunate enough to reach that far.
You can rest assured that we have the questions, and we will be monitoring the developments in the offseason as they develop, and beyond, looking for the answers as we look to evaluate the makeup of the Steelers as they try to navigate their way back to the Super Bowl, after reaching the AFC Championship game last season for the first time in more than half a decade.
Question: Will we see a Steelers defender approach double-digit sacks in 2017 for the first time since 2011?
While the Steelers have improved over the course of the past two seasons in terms of getting after the passer, ranking relatively favorably in terms of sack numbers in comparison to the rest of the league, I don’t think that anybody is making the argument that their pass-rushing issues have been solved.
Virtually anybody you ask who is informed will tell you that their highest priority is finding another high-quality pass rusher, or at least one of their top priorities, barring one that favors a quarterback, or a cornerback. And let’s be honest, it will be surprising if they don’t draft one within the first two rounds.
Even though they have been able to ramp up the total sack numbers after dipping substantially as their defense declined with the aging and retirement of their core players, what they have lacked that was the centerpiece of their defense was the premium pass-rusher who could annually approach or exceed double-digit sacks, and the correspondingly consistent pressure that that figure suggests.
The last time that a defender even his eight sacks was Jason Worilds in 2013, who followed that up with 7.5 the following year. Cameron Heyward also had 7.5 that year, and added another seven in 2015.
But James Harrison led the team with five sacks a year ago, which is a miniscule number for the top sacker on the team. He led the 2011 team with nine sacks, and had 10.5 the year they went to the Super Bowl. LaMarr Woodley also had 10 that year.
Could Harrison seriously be their best bet to approach double digits in 2017? It will be hard for him to even get that sort of playing time. If anybody is going to reach it, it might have to be Bud Dupree, who did see good sack totals at the end of the season when he finally came back healthy. He is working with a pass-rush specialist this offseason.
Heyward has gotten to or beyond seven a couple of times, and it’s no longer out of the ordinary for players at his position to his double digits. These have to be the most likely candidates. But are any of them realistically capable of hitting the mark in 2017?