It is often incredible just how fast the landscape in the National Football League can change in such a short amount of time. Coming into week ten, the Pittsburgh Steelers had given up the fewest number of sacks in the league, allowing their quarterbacks to be sacked just eight times.
Fast forward to the present day and the Steelers have given almost that exact same amount in just two weeks. Over the last two games, the Steelers have allowed seven sacks, which is almost unheard of in the city of Pittsburgh.
It has been more than four years since the Steelers have allowed their quarterback to be sacked seven times in a two-week span. In fact, the last time such a feat had occurred was during the 2015 season when they allowed the San Diego Chargers and Baltimore Ravens to record a combined seven sacks.
Interestingly enough, the Steelers also started a backup quarterback over those two weeks with Michael Vick starting both games in 2015. That is very similar to situation the Steelers find themselves in with Mason Rudolph filling in and it undoubtedly played a factor in this feat. To find the last time Ben Roethlisberger was sacked at least seven times in a two-game span, one has to travel all the way back to weeks 10 and 11 of the 2014 season when Roethlisberger was sacked seven times by the New York Jets and Tennessee Titans.
When it comes to pass protection, the Steelers had their worst showing of the season last Thursday against the Cleveland Browns as for the first time this year, they allowed four sacks in a game. Coming into Thursday night, the Steelers and the Dallas Cowboys were the only teams to not allow four or more sacks in a game this season. The Steelers performance not only leaves the Cowboys as the last team standing but it also signalled the end of a franchise best streak.
Thursday night’s contest marks the end of a franchise best 24-game streak in which the Steelers had not allowed four sacks or more in a game. The last time this occurred also came against the Browns during the 2018 season opener when Roethlisberger was sacked four times in Cleveland as well.
It has been a clear and obvious regression since the bye week in the pass protection department. In six games prior to the bye, the Steelers had allowed just five sacks. In four games since the bye week, they have allowed double that amount, giving up ten sacks.
Now is the offensive line mainly to blame? Well, yes but they are not the only ones deserving of blame. There are a lot of factors that go into the offensive line’s regression and as mentioned earlier quarterback play goes into it. Rudolph is no Roethlisberger in terms of pocket presence and footwork and in more than a few occasions the young quarterback has made an inexperienced mistake of drifting into pressure.
Secondly, it’s hard to mention regression without talking about the dilemma at the running back position. James Conner has developed into one of the better pass protectors over the last two years as he has become a trusted pass blocker on third down. With Conner’s injury, the Steelers have had to rely on Jaylen Samuels and even Trey Edmunds at times to pass protect and they are a far cry from Conner’s pass blocking ability. The Steelers have definitely missed Conner’s running ability but his ability to pick the blitz has also been missed as Samuels and Edmunds have been inconsistent at best.
There is an equal amount of blame to go around when looking at the regression of the Steelers’ pass protection recently. An unfortunate set of circumstances has seen the team nearly double the amount of sacks allowed this season over the last two weeks. Unfortunately, the National Football League does not give out points for pity meaning that the Steelers are going to have to find a way to clean up the pocket sooner rather than later.