It’s actually somewhat odd to think about, but it’s been a while—a handful of years, really—since the Pittsburgh Steelers last had an outside linebacker finish the regular season with the outright lead in terms of sacks with a number higher than five.
James Harrison led the Steelers in sacks last season, but he had just five. Bud Dupree was second with four and a half, while Stephon Tuitt, the defensive end, finished third with four sacks. During the 2015 season, Cameron Heyward led the team with seven sacks, while Tuitt was right behind him with six and a half. Harrison once again had five.
Jason Worilds in 2014 was the last outside linebacker to post more than five sacks in a season, tying Heyward for the team lead with seven and a half. Harrison also had five and a half sacks that year, and yet the team as a whole still had just a pitiful 33 sacks on the season.
Ultimately, you have to go all the way back to the 2013 season to find the last time that an outside linebacker held the outright lead in sacks for the Steelers with a number greater than five, the year that Worilds recorded eight sacks and earned himself the transition tag. Heyward and LaMarr Woodley split second place with five sacks in a year in which they had just 34 in total.
Harrison led the team with six sacks in 2012, a year in which they still only had 37. He and Woodley both had nine apiece, however, in 2011, and yet they accounted for more than half of the team’s sacks that season, finishing with only 35.
We really have to go all the way back to the 2010 season to find that last time that the Steelers not only had consistent, quality play from the outside linebacker position, but also a consistent pass rush as a whole, of which quality play from the outside linebackers is generally a must.
That year, the last time they reached the Super Bowl, Harrison recorded 10 and a half sacks, while Woodley added 10 of his own, but they got minor contributions from all over the place, including nine combined from their starting inside linebackers.
The closest the Steelers have come to mounting consistent pressure since 2010 was in 2015, when they finished near the top of the league with 48 sacks. But in order to do so, they really had to put it together piecemeal, involving a lot of blitzing because they were doing little to win consistently with their conventional rushers.
Has the pendulum finally swung all the way back in the right direction for the Steelers? Do they finally have the front seven personnel required to generate the kind of pressure that they need without overly relying on manufacturing the pressure? They have Tuitt and Heyward and Harrison and Dupree, but also Javon Hargrave, Ryan Shazier, and now T.J. Watt.