On a day when a huge second—the Pittsburgh Steelers second 7-0 record in franchise history—reigned, it also proved to be a key day of firsts for a pair of young linebackers. Both Robert Spillane and Alex Highsmith recorded their first interceptions of their NFL career, and helped provide Pittsburgh with 14 of their 28 points on the day.
Spillane got to take his into the end zone for a score, but the offense had to do work to profit off of the rookie Highsmith’s interception, which came early in the second half. The third-round draft pick was getting more playing time as part of a new run sub-package in order to supplement the loss of Mike Hilton, and he took advantage of that.
“We had one of our packages in, that I was in, so I knew when that play started they were coming back to that because they ran the same play on the first half, and I didn’t drop deep enough, and they threw it over my head, so I learned from that play and just dropped deeper”, he told reporters after the game about the play.
“The ball just fell right to my hands. We were talking about it at halftime with coach, and with T.J. [Watt] and Bud [Dupree] trying to make adjustments, and I did that. The ball just fell into my hands. I learned from my mistake in the first half and made it in the second”.
A late riser on the draft boards coming out of Charlotte, Highsmith was not expected to be a major contributor during his rookie season, but he has emerged as the Steelers’ top backup outside linebacker behind Watt and Dupree.
The group as a whole made plays today, as both Watt and Dupree recorded a sack, with Dupree recording a strip sack in the red zone, the Steelers recovering. Highsmith, of course, added a second takeaway with the interception, with the offense quickly turned into a touchdown via an Eric Ebron touchdown reception.
On the interception, the Ravens came out in 22 personnel with an end on either side and fullback Patrick Ricard flanked to Lamar Jackson’s left. Ricard ran a flat route to the left on Highsmith’s side while Mark Andrews was running a corner route.
With Spillane following Andrews, Highsmith left Ricard in the flat with Jackson looking for Andrews, dropping for more depth, knowing that he would be looking for his Pro Bowl tight end, and he was able to pick off the ball, giving the Steelers possession on the Ravens’ 21.
First career interception for @highsmith34!
— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) November 1, 2020
That was one of four takeaways by the defense on the day, and they now have nine different players recording 10 total interceptions, including three by linebackers and another by a defensive lineman. Those are the kind of contributions that make for a complete unit.