The Pittsburgh Steelers have recorded at least one sack (and the vast majority of the time, more than one sack) in something like 63 consecutive games, and later this season, if they keep going, they will have a shot at breaking the all-time record. They have 26 sacks in the first six games of the 2020 season, in all of which they have recorded at least two sacks so far, and upwards of seven.
T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree lead the way with 5.5 and 5 sacks, respectively, with Stephon Tuitt at 4. Both Mike Hilton and Vince Williams have 3 sacks apiece, while Cameron Heyward, Devin Bush, Terrell Edmunds, Tyson Alualu, and Cameron Sutton have all contributed to the league-leading total to date.
So what is the key, not only to having a very good pass rush, but also one that is consistent and productive, not just from game to game, but even year to year? After all, this streak extends beyond the beginning of Watt’s career, and he has contributed at least half a sack in 31 of his 52 career games.
“I think it’s just a level of discipline, understanding rush lanes, our communication between ourselves”, defensive captain Cameron Heyward told reporters earlier today. “We come in with a good plan. Guys will watch film on their own, and then we’re collectively talking about how we want to rush a guy, what we want to do in certain situations”.
“But you’ve got to have that cohesiveness and a group of guys willing to do that”, he added, and Heyward frequently plays that role himself. “It can’t be just one cowboy trying to do his own show. It requires a lot of guys not only sacrificing to do what’s good for the team, but understanding that we have to have our rush lanes, and we have to have the ability to cover up those big lanes, because you’re going to get torched if you don’t”.
Heyward, who had 29 sacks over the previous three seasons, ‘only’ has 1.5 so far this year, but he has been key in generating pressure. He has often taken on that ‘sacrificing’ role, covering a gap when Tuitt and Dupree stunts into an open rush lane to ensure that they don’t leave an escape.
As important as it is to have great players and athletes who are able to win matchups, it’s even more important to have a cohesive unit that is going to be on the same page and make sure that they don’t leave these gaps that allow quarterbacks to step up in the pocket out of pressure or even to scramble for a good gain.
By and large, the Steelers have done as well as they have in protecting the integrity of their rush lanes as I can ever recall them doing in the past, and it’s no surprise that they’re off to about as good a start in the pass rush as I have ever seen.