Keith Butler’s defense cannot seem to buy a turnover nor force a stop when it matters. Though one area they are doing well in is getting after the quarterback but even that does not seem to be worth much.
Another four sacks on Sunday added to the Pittsburgh Steelers’ league leading 45 sacks. Below them are the 11-2 Kansas City Chiefs with 42 and the 11-2 New Orleans Saints, with 41. These teams are a combined 22-4, while the Steelers sit at 7-5-1. All three of these teams have gotten after the quarterback but yet only two can feel confident about their playoff chances. The sacks are there but the wins are not adding up, and it is easy to see why.
Guys like T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree have been noticeably absent during the Steelers’ three game skid, totaling just one sack and two quarterback hits over this span. While Watt is developing into a highly capable player and Dupree is a serviceable piece, neither of the two are feared pass rushers that keep offensive coordinators up at night. A streaky player, Watt has totaled eight sacks in three games this season and just two in the remaining ten games. Dupree has not had a multi-sack game since December of 2016. Until both players get to an elite and consistent level of play, they are both going to need help and more importantly time to get to the quarterback.
Thanks to the secondary, time is something that Watt and Dupree are not getting.
It is astonishing that the Steelers were able to record four sacks Sunday considering the speed in which Raiders’ quarterback Derek Carr was releasing the football at. I went back and timed all 34 of Carr’s passing attempts, his average time from snap to release was just 2.19 seconds. It would be pretty difficult for pass rushers like Joey Bosa or Von Miller to get after the quarterback in 2.19 seconds, let alone Watt and Dupree.
If opposing receivers are getting open or finding holes in the zone in less than 2.2 seconds, a pass rush is insignificant, in fact it is irrelevant. The general rule is that a quarterback must release a football within three seconds or else he is vulnerable to pressure, leading to a sack or an ill-advised throw. Well, Carr was only charted for throwing three passes that took three or more seconds on Sunday.
One player who hurt the Steelers not only down the field but also in slowing their pass rush was tight end Jared Cook. The Raiders’ tight end finished with seven catches for 116 yards on ten targets. On those ten targets to Cook, Carr’s average snap to release time was just 2.12 seconds. Once again, hard to pressure to quarterback when guys are wide open within the blink of an eye.
The key to good pass rush is good to decent coverage. Guys like Watt, Dupree and even Cameron Heyward and Javon Hargrave are not getting even remotely enough time to get to the quarterback. Just think two weeks back when Hargrave had Chargers’ quarterback Phillip Rivers dead in his sights but Rivers quickly released to a wide-open Keenan Allen to move the chains, putting the Chargers in position to win. It was the same story Sunday with Carr and the Raiders.
The Steelers’ defense comes with no surprises. They are not a band of star-powered individuals but rather a system with a specific blueprint for success. Right now, the secondary is failing to do their part and as a result, the entire system is crumbling.