The Pittsburgh Steelers really need their two young outside linebackers to become a key part of the heart and soul of their defense. After all, they have used first-round draft picks on the pair over the course of the past three drafts. They need to be the primary pass-rushers for the unit in order for them to be at their best.
And so far, overall, they are doing a solid job. Rookie T.J. Watt has been a bit more productive than has third-year Bud Dupree, but both of been showing capably, even if they have been at times falsely accused of some errors in run support that were really on the secondary failing in crack-and-replace.
One would hope that we are seeing them start to heat up as we approach the midway point of the season. The two of them yesterday combined for nine tackles and a pair of sacks, each of them with a quarterback takedown, though Dupree nearly had two.
The 2015 first-rounder landed some impact plays for the defense in key moments. When the offense failed to get into the end zone toward the end of the first half, he assisted on a tackle for loss on second down that helped the Steelers get the ball back before halftime and add another field goal.
In the second half, relatively early in the fourth quarter just after the offense failed to move the ball past its own 13-yard line, going three and out in the process, the Bengals after a punt starting their next drive on Pittsburgh’s side of the field at the 45-yard line.
But on first down, he was able to get into the backfield, pressuring quarterback Andy Dalton, and while he did not get the sack himself, he helped to set up the rest of the defense to make a play, with the recipient of the eventual sack being Tyson Alualu, which was his first as a Steeler.
That sack went for a loss of 11 yards, and two plays later, Dupree finally got his, looking like he was shot out of a cannon as he hunted Dalton down behind the line of scrimmage. He pounced on the Bengals quarterback and pulled him down for a big loss of 13 yards.
That drive did not simply stifle the Bengals’ offense as they were looking to get something going with great starting field position—it also helped to flip the field. Cincinnati lost an astounding 21 yards on that three-play drive, and Pittsburgh was able to take over with breathing room at their own 23.
Dupree and Watt have combined for 12 games played so far this year, and they have put up seven sacks between them. It could be better, but it is not bad. And others have been producing as well. As of this writing, the Steelers are tied for second with 24 sacks, behind only the Jaguars on a record pace with 33 sacks.