The offseason is inevitably a period of projection and speculation, which makes it the ideal time to ponder the hypotheticals that the Pittsburgh Steelers will face over the course of the next year, whether it is addressing free agency, the draft, performance on the field, or some more ephemeral topic.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: The Steelers will lead the league in sacks for the third consecutive season.
Explanation: Somehow, some way, after years of lethargy, the Steelers have become one of the best teams in the league in terms of registering quarterback sacks. They have led or tied for the league lead in that category in each of the past two seasons, posting 56 in 2017 and then 52 last year. They return all of their pass-rushing talent from those two seasons.
As mentioned, the gang’s all here, as they say. The primary motivators are going to figure to be T.J. Watt and Cameron Heyward, who are the only players on the team since 2011 I believe to have posted double-digit sacks. Heyward had 12 in 2017—just the third instance by a defensive lineman in team history—and Watt posted 13 a year ago. Both contributed 20 sacks to that two-year total and went to the Pro Bowl last year (Heyward each of the past two years).
There are other reasons to believe that they can keep up the pace. The coverage should be able to force quarterbacks to hold on to the ball longer this season as they continue to adopt a man coverage approach with Joe Haden and now Steven Nelson, and the growth of the safeties will help in that effort. Internal growth and potentially new contributors like Olasunkanmi Adeniyi, Devin Bush, and maybe even Isaiah Buggs add more options.
Arguing that the Steelers will get 50-plus sacks and arguing that they will lead the league in that category are very different questions, since the most sacks varies wildly from year to year. The Steelers’ all-time record for sacks in a season is 56, but multiple teams have recorded over 70 in a season.
Now, that doesn’t happen very often, but in a league in which more passes are being thrown than ever before, it’s more than plausible that the Steelers will reach 50 sacks this season and still barely make it into the top five in sacks.