The Pittsburgh Steelers had a dominant pass rush during the first week of the season. They largely maintained that heading into Week 2, though the first-half loss of edge rusher T.J. Watt took quite a bit of the sting out of their attack. This past Sunday, their presence was hardly felt.
According to Derrek Tuszka, who was officially signed to the 53-man roster today, it wasn’t just because of who they were missing, which also included Alex Highsmith, Stephon Tuitt, and Tyson Alualu. It’s about what the Cincinnati Bengals themselves were doing.
“The pass rush was tough. We knew that they were gonna try to build up [Joe] Burrow’s confidence with quick-game, getting that ball out quick”, he told reporters on Monday. “Just watching film from last year, the Steeler defense was really getting after him. They did everything they could not to let the pass-rush game affect them”.
Burrow was sacked four times during his first meeting against the Steelers last year in a 36-10 loss, and was heavily pressured throughout the contest. It was about as bad as he looked all season. And he had already taken nine sacks the first two games of this season.
“The first couple weeks, our defense has been a big factor on the quarterbacks, so they were doing everything they could to get the ball out of his hands as quickly as possible, making it a little bit of a challenge to get to the quarterback”, Tuszka said.
A seventh-round pick out of North Dakota State, he was drafted by the Denver Broncos last year and spent his rookie year there, where he primarily played on special teams. After roster cuts, he jumped at the chance to sign with the Steelers on their practice squad.
With Watt and Highsmith out, he was elevated from the practice squad, and made up a three-man edge pass rush along with Melvin Ingram and first-year Jamir Jones. Since them, the Steelers waived Jones, who will likely be re-signed to the practice squad if he clears waivers, in order to promote Tuszka, who registered two tackles in 27 snaps played Sunday.
Of course, what they need is to get Watt and Highsmith healthy, both of whom are dealing with groin injuries. A bit of bottom-of-the-roster tinkering isn’t likely to make much of a difference, if we’re being entirely honest here.
And their next opponent, the Green Bay Packers, has one of the best pass-protecting offensive lines in the league. They’ll be endeavoring to keep quarterback Aaron Rodgers clean as well, though they’ll be throwing it more than the Bengals did.