As we will do every week to get you ready for the upcoming game, our X Factor of the week. Sometimes it’s a player, unit, concept, or scheme. The key area to watch in Sunday’s game against the Cleveland Browns.
X Factor: Pass Rush Containment
While the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense was far from the problem in their loss to Cleveland two weeks ago, there were some uncharacteristic breakdowns. Some coverage busts which created big plays and touchdowns but they also struggled to keep Baker Mayfield within the pocket. He was able to extend the play, especially on some crucial third downs, ones that resulted in touchdowns like the final one he threw to ice the game.
Mike Tomlin harped on the issue after the loss.
“We didn’t keep him in the pocket enough on extended plays. He created some things, and we weren’t strong enough on the back end in terms of combination with the rush to keep him in, so he made a few plays that we weren’t able to overcome.”
The road of defending mobile quarterbacks doesn’t get any easier either. This week is Mayfield. Next week is Kyler Murray. Followed by Josh Allen. There’s a one week break with Sam Darnold followed by Lamar Jackson in the finale and even if he is rested, it’ll be Robert Griffin III under center.
Pittsburgh’s had its issues, like most defenses do, with mobile QBs this year. Russell Wilson burned them with QB scrambles at the end of their Week 2 loss. They did a better job on Jackson than most teams but he still predictably made plays with his legs. The defense has done well against immobile quarterbacks. Phillip Rivers, Jared Goff, and Brian Hoyer. Facing an athletic quarterback is a whole new challenge.
As much as the Steelers want – and frankly, need – to get sacks and splash plays, keeping Mayfield within the pocket is step one. Show proper rush lane integrity, no freelancing, and Keith Butler will probably have to limit the number of “two way gos,” where pass rushers are given the freedom to win inside or out.
Don’t let Mayfield escape and it’s hard to see the Browns having any more success than their relatively limited output in the previous meeting. And it should mean the Steelers will enact some revenge, knocking Cleveland out of the playoff picture for good. Then, all will be right with the world again.