As the PITTSBURGH STEELERS’ pass rush ran rampant against an overmatched and overwhelmed Buffalo Bills’ offensive line Sunday in Orchard Park, one thing stuck out immediately: The Steelers were getting pressure with just four players.
Defensive end Cameron Heyward had a career day, while outside linebackers T.J. Watt, Alex Highsmith, and Melvin Ingram came at Bills’ star quarterback Josh Allen in waves.
Being able to get consistent pressure with four will be a huge boon for the Steelers’ defense throughout the 2021 season, especially once star defensive end Stephon Tuitt gets healthy. Having a three-headed monster at outside linebacker will also help, according to Heyward, who spoke to reporters Thursday.
Heyward was asked how the Steelers were able to so quickly generate pressure with guys like Highsmith elevating into a new starting role and Ingram coming to a new team. The defensive captain pointed to the work the Steelers have put in throughout the summer, allowing them to get up to speed quickly throughout communication and repetitions, creating that three-headed monster at outside linebacker.
“I think that just goes back to our practice. You know, we had a tough training camp, but you know, we communicate a lot,” Heyward said to reporters according to Steelers.com. “It’s about, you know, working with those guys, making sure they feel comfortable. The best thing for Alex last year was him playing. I know it didn’t happen organically, where Bud [Dupree] got hurt, but getting Alex in there, getting him accustomed to starting, and then bringing in Melvin, who’s a seasoned vet, those guys are able to work on the fly and, having a three-headed monster like T.J. and Alex and Mel really benefits us.”
The Steelers will undoubtedly benefit from the three-headed monster at outside linebacker this season, assuming health, as defensive coordinator Keith Butler will be able to rotate all three guys in and out, keeping them fresh throughout the season, allowing them to be performing at their best when it hopefully matters most in December and January, where defense truly wins championships.
“We want to keep people as fresh as we can,” Butler said to reporters Thursday, according to the transcript. “Everybody talked about the outside linebackers and how we rotated those three guys, which we needed to do. That’s nothing new; we’ve done the same thing in the past. It’s just the fact that those guys are wrestling dadgum 300-pound guys and you get tired doing that mess. You guys that have wrestled before, you know what I’m talking about. We want to make sure we try to keep them as fresh as possible. Of course, T.J. [Watt] got in the game, hadn’t had as much practice as we’d like for him to have, so we had to be careful about how we handled that situation. We’ve got three good outside linebackers that deserve to play.”