The Pittsburgh Steelers have invested heavily in their front four for some time, as goes without saying. Just at the outside linebacker position alone, they have used three first-round picks there since 2013. Even if their first selection didn’t work out, they got Bud Dupree in 2015, and then T.J. Watt, an All-Pro, two years later.
Along their defensive line, they have two of the best interior pass rushers in the NFL in Cameron Heyward, who has 29 sacks over the past three seasons, and Stephon Tuitt, who is starting to come into his own, a process already begun before his injury last season. He had 3.5 sacks in five games last year, and already has two this year.
Combine their excellent pass-rushing front four with a fairly deep and competent rotation, and a complement of effective off-ball blitzers such as Vince Williams at inside linebacker and Mike Hilton out of the slot, and you have the makings of the best pass rush in the game.
That is evidenced in the fact that they lead the NFL with 15 sacks through three games, but also in the fact that they have created pressure at a rate far exceeding anybody else. According to Pro Football Focus, they have generated pressure on the quarterback on more than half of their pass-rushing snaps this season. No other team has created pressure on even 40 percent of their pass-rushing snaps.
In other words, there is a wide gap between the Steelers and everybody else. It’s no surprise that they have the highest team pass-rushing grade from the site at 84.6, although the Philadelphia Eagles are actually not far behind at 83.4. Nobody else has a team grade above 78.
But you don’t need some analytic numbers to see it. You just have to watch the games. Pittsburgh’s pass rush has been relentless, led by Watt, who has created 18 pressures already on the season, including nine total sacks and hits. Both Dupree and Tuitt have 17 pressures, Tuitt with two sacks and five hits, while Heyward has 14 pressure, among them four hits.
In all, the Steelers have hit the opposing quarterback 22 times according to Pro Football Focus, a statistic that does not include sacks. Pro Football Reference does include sacks in their hits statistic, and in all, they have Pittsburgh with 39 total quarterback takedowns, Watt with 10, Tuitt with eight, and Dupree with six, while Heyward and Hilton of four.
Can they sustain this rate of pressure? Frankly, the answer is ‘of course not’. They will regress to a mean over the course of the season, but regressing from this plateau is itself quite impressive. Pressure will come and go based on a variety of factors, including the quality of opponent and their style of passing game, but nobody in the NFL is better-equipped to get after the quarterback than the Steelers are, based both on talent and scheme.
Steelers lead the NFL in pressure percentage through Week 3 at 50%.
No other team in the NFL has cleared 40%. pic.twitter.com/gnpJpzDvYY
— PFF (@PFF) October 1, 2020