Answer me this question: when is the last time you have had this much fun, this consistently, watching the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense play ball? About a decade or so, right? It’s been a while. Now, they have had some good units in between, even with a spotty track record. But what they’re doing through 13 games this season, especially relative to the rest of the league, is special.
Potentially even nearly unique in the modern era. With three games remaining in the season, the Steelers could become the first team since the 1970 merger—other than their 1974 Super Bowl team—to lead the league not just in sacks, but in takeaways as well, per NFL Research. This does not include any strike-shortened seasons with replacement players.
The @Steelers lead the NFL in sacks, QB hits & takeaways in 2019
Since the 1970 merger, only 1 team has led the NFL outright in both sacks & takeaways for a full, non-strike-shortened season
That team? The 1974 Steelers — the original Steel Curtain & Super Bowl IX champions pic.twitter.com/Dr4qkMNQEX
— NFL Research (@NFLResearch) December 11, 2019
After bringing down Kyler Murray five times on Sunday, the Steelers now have 48 sacks on the season, on the cusp of their third consecutive season of 50 sacks or more. They had a team-record 56 sacks in 2017, which led the NFL, and then they tied for the NFL lead a year ago with 52.
That season, however, they only had 15 takeaways over the course of the entire year. With three games to play, they have already more than doubled that. With their three interceptions off of Murray—two by Joe Haden, including the game-sealer, and an end-zone pick by T.J. Watt—they now have taken the ball away 33 times, their most since they had 35 in 2010, the last time they reached the Super Bowl.
It’s fair to say that they have a great chance of getting more than 35 takeaways in 2019. While they laid a goose egg in two games, they have recorded at least two takeaways in every other of their 11 games. The probability, based on the first 13 games, of them getting at least three takeaways over the next three games has to be pretty high.
And they currently hold a two-takeaway lead over the New England Patriots, who held the lead in that category pretty much since the beginning of the season until this past week. As far as sacks goes, that one is closer, as they only have a one-sack lead over the Carolina Panthers, with 47, and the San Francisco 49ers also have 45. I believe they trailed both entering Sunday’s game.
It’s notable that the Steelers’ five-sack performance on Sunday came on the road, because they only had something like eight or nine sacks in their first five road games, and two of their final three games are on the road. If they want to retain the league lead in sacks, they’ll have to get them away from the comforts of home.
Meanwhile, they are on pace to set yet another franchise record for the most sacks in a single season, if they simple average three sacks per game over the final three weeks, which would bring them to 57. And they should be sending three or four guys—maybe even five—to the Pro Bowl, provided they don’t have a game to play a week later.