The Pittsburgh Steelers set a franchise record with 56 sacks during the course of the 2017 regular season. They had at least three sacks in every game that they played, if I’m not mistaken—if not, then it was two. Writing on a quick-turnover expectation, this one is too detailed to fact-check right now.
But the point is, that pass rush was nowhere to be seen throughout the afternoon against the Jacksonville Jaguars during today’s gut-punch home Divisional Round loss. The only time that they even managed to put quarterback Blake Bortles on the ground was when he muffed a snap and had to fall on it to recover his own fumble. That officially went down as tackle for loss.
The Jaguars and the Steelers were, admittedly, two of the best teams in the league in protecting their quarterbacks. Bortles was only sacked 24 times during the season, tied with Pittsburgh and two other teams for the third-most in the NFL. But that is still a sack and a half per game, and against a team that had more sacks than any team, averaging more than three and a half per game.
So soon after the conclusion of the game, without much opportunity yet for reflection and evaluation, it is impossible for me right now to say that the effort was lacking in the pass rush. But the results certainly were, and that is equally inexcusable, especially in the postseason.
What happened to Cameron Heyward? The first-team All-Pro, who had not played since Christmas after being given the final week of the season off, followed by the first-round bye week, registered just one tackle throughout the entire game, though he was officially credited with a pressure in the play-by-play from the league website.
Stephon Tuitt was credited with a pressure on the same play, and those are their only pressures credited. Sean Spence, Vince Williams, and Bud Dupree also get mentions in the play-by-play for pressures, though without having access yet to review them, it’s hard to say of what quality they were. These are not actual statistics, but judgements by whoever writes this up.
The bottom line, the Steelers did not get much pressure, certainly far less than they needed to. Even though Bortles had his share of struggles on just 26 pass attempts, much of it was of his own doing, not frequently being harassed by the defense.
It’s a somewhat sobering reminder of how differently one game can play out than the expectations. The Steelers not only led the league in sacks, they also, by multiple different resources, were credited as one of the very top teams in the NFL in generating pressure.
They were far from that today, and that was a big reason why the Jaguars were able to put up 38 points on the offensive side of the ball. Matched with absolutely terrible red zone defense, the only reason that this was not a blowout loss was because of some spectacular individual offensive efforts.