If there is one thing that I have learned from being a blogger here for the past seven-plus years, it is the fact that Pittsburgh Steelers fans love hearing about how good this or that aspect of the team is after they lose a game. This also extends to individual accomplishments that occur in losses.
I kid, of course. By and large, nobody wants to hear about anything positive after a loss. But nobody can deny that the Steelers had a damn good pass rush in 2020, even if it burned out in their postseason loss to the Cleveland Browns, in part because of their surprise adoption of a quick-passing approach.
According to Pro Football Focus, and this shouldn’t be much of a surprise, they had in fact the best pass rush group in the entire league in 2020, placing ahead of the Philadelphia Eagles, the Los Angeles Rams, the Chicago Bears, and the Washington Football Team. Ben Linsey writes about the Steelers:
The Steelers are coming off one of the best pass-rushing seasons we’ve seen since 2006, generating pressure on a whopping 45.1% of their pass-rushing snaps over the regular season.
It was a well-rounded effort, with Defensive Player of the Year hopeful T.J. Watt leading the way with 73 total pressures (third in the NFL) and both Stephon Tuitt (71 pressures) and Cameron Heyward (62 pressures) not far behind that mark. Having three of the top 10 pressure producers on the same defense is a remarkable feat, particularly considering Pittsburgh lost starting edge defender Bud Dupree midway through the season.
Only mentioned in passing toward the end is Dupree, who was looking to build off of a breakout 2019 season. He had eight sacks through 11 games before suffering a torn ACL, and was just generally playing at the top of his game. The defense struggled a bit more with his absence.
Watt, of course, was exceptional, in virtually all phases, and is a leading candidate to be named the Defensive Player of the Year in 2020 after placing third a year ago. He was just the second Steelers in NFL history to lead the league in sacks, with 15, which is the second-most (tied) in franchise history.
Then there is Stephon Tuitt, who had the career year we all knew he had in him, posting 11 sacks and a couple of forced fumbles along the way. He is only the third Steelers lineman in history to post double-digit sacks.
One of the others is Cameron Heyward, of course, who may have finished with a ‘low’ sack total, but continued to play at his usual high level. He made the Pro Bowl once again, and earned second-team All-Pro honors.
Honorable mention goes to Alex Highsmith, their rookie third-round pick, who started at the end of the year once Dupree went down. He only finished with two sacks, but he showed real potential, and could be their starter full-time in 2021.