As we have talked about yesterday, the Pittsburgh Steelers during the 2017 regular season established a new franchise record by recording 56 sacks over the span of their 16 games. The team previously recorded 55 sacks in both 1994 and in 2001, so the record stood for 23 years.
From a broader perspective, the Steelers’ 56 sacks is not actually an incredible feat. Make no mistake, it is a very good season. But since sacks became an official statistic in 1982, teams have recorded at least 57 sacks in a season 36 times. 22 teams have recorded 60 or more sacks in a season; seven teams have recorded 65 or more; and three teams have recorded 70 or more, with the 1984 Chicago Bears owning the all-time mark with 72.
Now that I’ve gotten the buzzkill out of the way—I can note that only six of these aforementioned seasons have come since 2000—let’s talk about how great the Steelers’ pass rush has been throughout the majority of the season. After all, recording more sacks than they ever have in their excellent history is an achievement.
So how did that come about this figure? It is an especially impressive feat when one considers that their leading edge rusher recorded only seven sacks, and they got 13 combined from their two starters. The outside linebacker position as a whole produced 17 sacks on the season.
So let’s start with that group. T.J. Watt became the first Steelers rookie defensive starter to go the distance from the start of the season to the finish since Kendrell Bell in 2001. He led the position with seven sacks, including one in the finale. Bud Dupree also had six, while Anthony Chickillo added three and James Harrison had one. There’s your 17.
The bulk of the productivity this season came from the defensive line this season, with Cameron Heyward posting just the third season in team history from the position group with double-digit numbers. His 12 sacks are the second-most ever by a Steelers defensive lineman behind only Keith Willis in 1983. Willis also had 12 in 1986.
Heyward was not alone, however. While Stephon Tuitt missed most of the first half of the season—and had two sacks negated by defensive penalties—he still recorded three of his own on the year. Tyson Alualu’s two sacks in the finale gave him four on the season. Javon Hargrave and L.T. Walton each had two sacks as well to bring the position group’s total up to 23.
The inside linebacker group was a major contributor to the total as well in spite of the fact that Ryan Shazier did not record one. Vince Williams posted the third-most sacks by an inside linebacker in team history with eight, including one in the finale, while additions by Sean Spence and L.J. Fort rounded out the group’s total to 10.
Finally, the secondary provided the finishing touches with six additional sacks, four of which came from nickel cornerback Mike Hilton. Joe Haden and Sean Davis also recorded one.