While the Pittsburgh Steelers were able to rack up an impressive 56 sacks last season, the most in the NFL in 2018 and the most the team has ever had in a single season in franchise history, that number did come with a price.
A lot of the damage came up the middle, but the cost of doing that was giving up some lane integrity. Quarterbacks scrambling out of the pocket and either fleeing for a positive gain on a scramble or being able to reset and make a play downfield were too often an occurrence in 2017.
That phenomenon really reared its ugly head against the Green Bay Packers in the preseason game. Aaron Rodgers, for example, escaped a sack early in the game. Brett Hundley did so and ended up turning it into a 12-yard touchdown run.
That was something that the defensive coaches talked about after the game, and Mike Tomlin addressed it prior to Saturday’s game as well. He talked about valuing the opportunity of going up against mobile quarterbacks like Marcus Mariota and Blaine Gabbert on the Tennessee Titans’ roster from a preparation standpoint to test his unit.
Well, they passed the test that night. Not only did the two quarterbacks combine for zero yards on two rushes, the defense was also able to registered six sacks in the game, including two in the first half while the first-team offense was still on the field. The Titans, if you were not aware, have a quality offensive line.
“We get Tyrod Taylor in week one of the regular season, and he’s a guy who in a similar way can do damage with his legs”, Tomlin reminded. Taylor is going to be the starter for the Cleveland Browns when they host the Steelers in the regular season opener—at least assuming that his wrist injury is truly as minor as the team has made it sound.
The team will also likely see Lamar Jackson on the field at some point this year for the Baltimore Ravens even though Joe Flacco remains their starter. The team has been open throughout the offseason process about their intention to get snaps for the first-round draft pick, even with both quarterbacks on the field at the same time. Jackson threw a touchdown pass to Flacco in one practice in the spring.
Tomlin said that “quarterback mobility is increasingly becoming a big-time factor in our game, and more specifically in situational football”. While he said that the running quarterback is a different beast at the college level than it is in the NFL, he did say that teams “are willing to risk it to win possession downs”.
He concluded by saying that “there’s a lot of work to do in preparation for defending quarterback mobility for us”. He said that heading into the Titans game. I’m sure he came out of it pleased with the way his unit handled that quarterback mobility.