Look at the total sacks the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense racked up, 38 in all, and you walk away content. Not happy. But content. After all, the 38 ranked in the top ten.
Just keep in mind for as good as they were the second half of the season, they were equally bad in the first.
There was a time well into the season where it was conceivable the team would set a record or near low in sacks. Through the first eight games, the Steelers had just 13 sacks. They recorded one in only five of those eight.
The coaching staff mas made it clear. Their defense doesn’t succeed without a consistent four man pass rush. When it doesn’t get that, you get a rocky first half of the season like the defense experienced. And when it works, you get, well, the second half turnaround the followed.
Different elements played a role in the change. Better job finishing sacks, Keith Butler forced to blitz more often, and the backside of blitzes being contained, squeezing the quarterback and keeping him within the pocket. There is a time to talk about the X’s and O’s of what helped, a topic I’m sure we’ll visit later in the offseason.
Paint the defense with a broad brush, Butler confirming a desire to play less and demand for his four man rush to prove their worth, and their success is tethered to the success of the defense as a whole. And by extension, the entire team.
It’s not about leading the league in sacks, though that, of course, would be a welcome sight. It’s about consistency, a group that doesn’t shrink for weeks, even if they pick up the pieces sometime later. Pittsburgh can’t count on the Cleveland Browns this year, whose line improved greatly. It is worth pointing out the Cincinnati Bengals may have become the new whipping boys.
Either way, when the team hits the second half of the season and plays great lines and/or quarterbacks, Tennessee, Green Bay, New England and the like, the consistency of the pass rush – that’s the key word – will lead the way. Good or bad.