I already wrote earlier today about how a key stable of the core Dick LeBeau zone-blitz defense is the ability of the inside linebackers to have a diverse skill set that includes an aptitude for rushing the passer, and how it is imperative that the Pittsburgh Steelers continue to demonstrate that ability.
While LeBeau has been out in Pittsburgh for three offseasons now, it would be hard to argue that his imprint on the team is not still very strongly felt, even as his defense is slowly integrated more and more every year into the vision of his protégé, Keith Butler, and of Head Coach Mike Tomlin.
LeBeau helped create the zone blitz and is responsible for mastering it, making it a staple around the league by the success that he had with it in Pittsburgh. He has become synonymous with the style, and the Fire X blitz of the inside linebackers crossing face up the middle is a cornerstone of it.
Another cornerstone of LeBeau’s philosophy on defense is the belief that pressure is just as important as sacks, and that is something that I want to talk about today. The Steelers have in recent years had success in jacking up their sack numbers, but they have not yet been able to generate the consistent down-to-down pressure that is required in their system.
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) July 14, 2017
Pro Football Focus posted a graphic recently that illustrates just how important pressure is, charting over the course of the past 11 seasons the discrepancy in passer rating between passes thrown from a clean pocket versus those thrown from under duress. It should go without saying that this down not include sacks, since a pass cannot be thrown when a quarterback is sacked.
“You absolutely do not have to sack him. If you affect his timing, his vision, his rhythm, his follow-through—if you can do that, consistently pressure that guy, those sacks are going to come to because the guy that’s good enough to get that pressure is going to finish a certain amount of those plays”, LeBeau once said.
“You’re not going to be successful with a pass defense if somebody’s not around him speeding up his delivery. A lot of our best, best games come when we may only have one sack, but our guys are chasing the quarterback around”.
“A quarterback that’s running under duress is generally not as accurate as the guy back there throwing seven-on seven”, the defensive mastermind said. And the data in the aforementioned graphic makes that pretty obvious.
While there has actually been an improvement of passers throwing under duress the past few years, they have generally produced a passer rating between 60 and 65. Quarterback kept clean have only been improving over the past decade, nearly combining for a passer rating of 100 last year, but consistently in the 90s.