The Pittsburgh Steelers, courtesy of Bud Dupree, acknowledged that during the fairly meaningless regular-season finale, there were definitely times during which some members of the pass rush on defense were freelancing in an effort to break their franchise sack record, which they accomplished with their sixth of the game, and the 56th overall.
They also know that they paid the price for that lack of discipline, as DeShone Kizer was able to scramble for over 60 yards and convert a number of second- and third-and-long plays, which is an area in which the team has for the most part been very good defending this year.
They had better hope that the problems are solved easily enough by simply not trying to create sacks for the sake of achieving a team record, because they will have a mobile quarterback on the horizon for their first postseason game no matter who advances.
Whether it’s Blake Bortles, Marcus Mariota, or Alex Smith (or Patrick Mahomes), the next quarterback they face will be one who is able to create offense on the ground if necessary. They have faced all of these quarterbacks already this season, at least—but they’d faced Kizer, too.
Defensive end Cameron Heyward said that remaining disciplined in the pass rush is “very critical for our success”, telling Ray Fittipaldo, “if we can keep mobile quarterbacks in the pocket we’ll have a lot more success. We can shut down the lanes and make him think more about the rush and throw it down the field. If you give them wide open lanes they’re going to exploit you. That’s more critical in the playoffs”.
It is fair to point out that Heyward was not out there on the field for the game against Kizer, given the game off to rest, and he is arguably their most disciplined player on the entire field.
Dupree acknowledged once again that “everyone was thirsty trying to break the record” and said that they “were going to do anything to get it” and saw their mistakes, including crossing up rush lanes, during the subsequent film review.
But “this is all or nothing now”, he said. “You can’t be selfish. Guys have to be disciplined. We have to do our job and contain them”. That is a good thing to hear, but words are easier to say than deeds are to perform.
Defensive coordinator Keith Butler told Fittipaldo that part of the issue comes in playing man coverage. “That’s the downside to playing man coverage. There’s a lot of upside to playing it, too. You kind of weigh both. You mix it in there and play some man and some zone. We’ve kind of become a pretty good man team, I think. We have to be able to use both”.
It is good at least to hear the defense talking about it after they had major issues in allowing big plays to occur, both on scrambles and on completed passes after Kizer was able to scramble out of the pocket, in their last game.