Last week, it was one of many firsts for rookie outside linebacker Alex Highsmith, recording his first takeaway and first interception for the Pittsburgh Steelers against the Baltimore Ravens. It was a crucial turnover that helped turn the tide of the game. On Sunday, the third-round pick recorded a sack on third down inside the red zone on the opening drive that kept the Dallas Cowboys from getting into the red zone.
As should be implied, it was the first sack of Highsmith’s career, having played all of 83 snaps for the Steelers over the course of the first seven games of the season. Needless to say, he had not been playing a significant amount, though that appears to be changing.
Last week, the defense unveiled a 3-5-3 look in which Highsmith is on the field simultaneously with T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree. He played a total of 25 snaps, nearly four fifths of which came in that new package, including the play on which he nabbed an interception. His sack, however, came while rotating in for Dupree, in their ‘dime’ package with Marcus Allen as the sole linebacker on the field.
The stop came at a key early moment in the game, on the Cowboys’ opening drive of course as they somewhat effortlessly moved the ball down the field until they got into the red zone. After stops on first and second down, Highsmith and T.J. Watt both beat their tackles. Watt’s pressure forced Garrett Gilbert to pump the ball, and the rookie used that time to close for his first quarterback takedown.
I don’t have a precise snap count for you yet, but it did look like he played a decent amount of snaps in the game for a second week in a row, with a mixture of rotational and sub-package work, though it seemed as though he was involved more in the standard rotation this time, with Watt and Dupree getting more time off.
In all, he finished with two tackles and the sack, with one of the tackles coming on special teams, stopping Tony Pollard after a 23-yard kick return short of the 25-yard line to open the second half. He now has 14 tackles on the season, along with a sack and an interception.
And he continues to be the featured number three edge defender, ahead of a pair of Toledo Rockets, third-year Olasunkanmi Adeniyi and the more veteran Jayrone Elliott, who was formally promoted from the practice squad on Saturday, even though he had already played in the past two games as an elevation.
As a team, the Steelers now have 32 sacks on the season, which continues to lead the NFL, and they are now on pace to finish the year with 64 sacks, which would shatter their club record of 56 set two years ago. Highsmith became the 11th different player on the year to contribute to that total.