Blitzburgh is back?
Well, maybe. After all, the Pittsburgh Steelers haven’t exactly been playing a murderer’s row of offenses so far – Cleveland, Minnesota, Chicago, and Baltimore. The NFL equivalent of a yawn. But to their credit, their pass rush has gotten the job done. And their on track for the most sacks they’ve ever put up in a season.
Through the first quarter of the season, the defense has racked up 15 sacks. That’s good enough for second in the league, trailing only this Sunday’s opponent, the Jacksonville Jaguars. Take off your shoes and do the math and that’s 60 for the entire season.
This time a year ago, they had a lowly five. Four came in Week Four against the Kansas City Chiefs. A turnaround that can’t be overstated.
The current record comes in at 55, done twice since sacks were officially tracked in 1982 – 1994 and 2001. In ’94, Kevin Greene and Greg Lloyd tag-teamed to put up double-digits sacks each. And in 2001, Jason Gildon put up 12 sacks while rookie Kendrell Bell burst onto the scene, chipping in nine.
Injuries may end up limiting the Steelers from having any individual player putting up 12 to 14 sacks. But that’s not a bad thing. The wealth has been spread around with nine players registering at least half a sack and four recording at least two. They’ve come from the defensive line, Cam Heyward tied for the team lead with three, the outside linebackers, T.J. Watt has a pair, and the secondary, where Mike Hilton and Joe Haden each have one.
Keith Butler has been able to do it without feeling the obligation to blitz. Of those 15 sacks, Butler has only sent a blitz six times (by our definition) and by five times (by his definition, sending 5+). When they’ve been schemed, they’ve been schemed well, and Butler deserves credit for that in a year where some are questioning his future. But the key cogs have gotten home by themselves, too, something the team has wished, hoped, and prayed on for what feels like forever.
Pittsburgh is also doing the little things. Finishing sacks; they probably whiffed on ten of those a year ago. Stephon Tuitt especially was a habitual defender. They’ve done well to contain the quarterback in the pocket. And they’ve straight up won their matchups. From Javon Hargrave rag-dolling Browns’ center J.C. Tretter to begin the year to Heyward doing the same to Ravens’ guard James Hurst this past week.
The Steelers have pass rushers. It’s fun to think about. Fun to write out. It’s been awhile since I’ve been able to do that with honesty, sincerity, and without it being purely theoretical.
Yes, they’re unlikely to actually reach 60 sacks. They’re going to face better offenses and quarterbacks who get the ball out quick; even Andy Dalton, who is probably just firing away in hopes to get the season over that much sooner. Somewhere in the 50’s is a more realistic goal.
Even that will be an accomplishment to celebrate. It’s only been done once under Mike Tomlin, all the way back in 2008.
2008. A year where the Steelers won the Super Bowl. Something else they’d like to repeat. The pressure and sacks they’re getting can take them to that goal.