They say you can never have too many pass rushers, and ‘they’ are pretty smart. The Pittsburgh Steelers have drafted three pass rushers in the first round alone within the past five years, but they are still looking for help on the edge. T.J. Watt looks like he might be the answer to one spot, but Anthony Chickillo is not, and Bud Dupree is not exactly locking down the other spot either.
In spite of the fact that the Steelers not only led the league in sacks, but set a new franchise record with 56, over the course of the 2017 regular season, and were one of the most successful teams in creating pressure, all of that went by the wayside during the biggest game of the season, when they struggled to get pressure on the Jacksonville Jaguars in the Divisional Round.
The pressure came from everywhere, but that sort of pressure is less reliable. Cameron Heyward at defensive end had 12 and Vince Williams, the inside linebacker, had eight, while no edge rusher had more than seven. The total number of sacks off the edge was below 20.
Edge pressure is the most consistent way to get to the quarterback when you combine it with gap discipline up the middle, and if the Steelers are going to get back to the Super Bowl, they are going to have to figure out a better way to do this consistently.
At least, that is the analysis of Gregg Rosenthal for the NFL Network, who writes in an article about what each team needs to do to get to the championship game that the key for Pittsburgh is to “find another edge rusher”.
“It was hard to blame James Harrison for wanting to play more this season, as he sat behind some uninspiring edge players in Bud Dupree and Anthony Chickillo”, he wrote. “While the Steelers found a gem in first-round pick T.J. Watt, Pittsburgh’s defense was toothless late in the season because it lacked edge pressure. Since the Steelers should spend the salary cap space necessary to retain running back Le’Veon Bell, the team’s pass-rush need is likely to be filled through the draft”.
It’s sad, but true, in my opinion. The Steelers cannot enter the 2018 season operating under the assumption that they have a long-term answer at pass rusher on the roster outside of Watt, who is only entering his second season, so outside linebacker will probably be in play in the first round, whether or not it is the favorite.
Of course, it’s not a cure-all elixir, either. One of the reasons the Steelers struggled to get pressure against the Jaguars was because, frankly, they ran the ball a lot, and when they threw it, they frequently utilized play action.
There are a lot of things the Steelers can or should do to fix the issues that exist on their team, even if they remain one of the better teams in the league. Finding a more consistent presence among their edge rushers is a big one.