Heading into last night’s game, the Carolina Panthers’ offensive line had been blocking very well for quarterback Cam Newton. According to ESPN, while the Pittsburgh Steelers had the best offense in the league in terms of preventing their quarterback from being pressured, Newton’s Panthers were sixth, allowing pressure on just 23.8 percent of dropbacks.
That percentage certainly went up after last night, as it seemed the throws on which Newton was not pressured were few and far between. The Steelers were able to bring him down five times for sacks, and that was just the ones that they finished. Bud Dupree alone had a sack or two that he failed to complete.
Four different players brought Newton down after he had only been sacked 12 times all season. The only time he was sacked more than twice before last night was in the season opener against the Dallas Cowboys, when he was brought down three times.
Leading the way for Pittsburgh was Cameron Heyward, who registered his third and fourth full sacks of the season, with four and a half in total. T.J. Watt had the hardest sack, coming in unblocked and ramming a helmet into his shoulder, forcing a fumble, for his eighth sack of the year, surpassing his rookie total.
Joining them on the sacks were Vince Williams, who also had an interception for a touchdown, and Dupree, who was the one who supplied the pressure that forced that interception. Newton threw the ball just to avoid a safety, only to have it picked off and returned for seven, rather than two.
And if recent history is any indication, he would have been better off taking the safety, as the Steelers have failed to recover the ball on each of their past two safety kicks…which has to be a record, you would think.
But anyway, the point is that the Steelers’ pass rush has been looking very good lately, perhaps never better than last night, during which Newton rarely looked comfortable. This is in spite of the fact that he ended up throwing two touchdowns with just the one interception and a quarterback rating over 100.
He completed 23 of his 29 passes, which sounded bad, but failed to reach 200 passing yards. Had it not been for the wheel route, on which Christian McCaffrey scored twice from 20-plus yards out, this would have been a disaster for the Panthers.
The Steelers now lead the league in sacks through nine games with 31, tied with the Minnesota Vikings, who have also played nine. The top five teams in sacks, in fact, have all already played nine games, the Green Bay Packers with 25 being the team with the most sacks having yet to play their ninth.
Of course, Pittsburgh is coming off a 2017 season in which they led the league in sacks, finishing the year with a franchise-record 56. The Steelers are currently on pace to record 55.1 sacks, so…it could be a close one.