Being wealthy is nice but sharing the wealth among those close to you is even better. That is how the members of the Pittsburgh Steelers defense must feel as they look to close out a ludicrous season.
While it is impressive that the Steelers have totaled 50 sacks thus far this season, their highest total since 2008, it is the way that they have earned 50 sacks that is even more impressive. Led by Cameron Heyward (12 sacks), the Steelers have 13 players who have gotten to the quarterback at least once this season. Not only that but the team’s 15 interceptions are also shared by 11 different players.
Rather than be a defense driven by one star, defensive coordinator Keith Butler has created a defense that can attack and create turnovers from all different departments of the defense.
In a national landscape, the defensive line trio of Heyward, Stephon Tuitt and Javon Hargrave may slide under the radar but in Pittsburgh, the trio’s efforts have not gone unappreciated. While the Steelers rarely feature elite pass rushers on their defensive line, they have been gifted with the likes of Heyward, Tuitt and Hargrave – a big reason why the defensive line has outproduced every other unit in sack production.
The stellar play of the defensive line has allowed Butler to drop his outside linebackers in coverage, giving way for more creative blitz packages. Look no further than cornerback Mike Hilton for results. Hilton has four sacks this season and became the first cornerback to ever record three sacks in a game after his three-sack game against the Houston Texans last weekend.
The increased pressure has also led to the Steelers placing top ten in the NFL and fifth in the AFC in interceptions with 15. Ryan Shazier leads the team with three interceptions as his presence in the middle of the field is irreplaceable. With their creative blitzing, the Steelers’ linebackers have been responsible for a third of their interception totals.
When it comes to interceptions, no team in the AFC has been able to spread the wealth as generously as the Steelers defense. The Steelers lead the AFC with 11 players to have at least one interception.
With multiple players capable of rushing the passer, the Steelers are breaking away from their traditional mold and transforming into a more versatile defense. The days where the team featured two defensive ends and a nose tackle solely for the purpose of stopping the run are over. The same goes for the days where the Steelers relied exclusively on their outside linebackers to generate pressure.
With players like rookie outside linebacker T.J. Watt, who can rush the passer and drop into coverage extremely well and Heyward, a force against the run and getting to the quarterback, the Steelers are more versatile than ever. With more versatility, Butler has created a Steelers defense that thrives on creativity and its success is showing.