Despite having one of the most potent pass-rush quartets in the league, the Pittsburgh Steelers found themselves blitzing quite a lot in 2020. Pittsburgh didn’t have to. They just liked to. They had success when they rushed for, and they had success when they rushed more, and they were best at doing both.
But they wanted to get there with four yesterday against the Buffalo Bills and quarterback Josh Allen and their high-octane passing game. They hardly blitzed at all throughout the afternoon, and yet they always seemed to be in the backfield.
“We stress getting four-man pressure”, defensive captain Cameron Heyward, one of the pivotal figures in that four-man rush, told reporters after the game. “You can’t just rely on your blitzes. You’ve got to be able to mix it up. When we’re hitting home with four men, it makes us a harder team to beat”.
It helps when one of those four guys is T.J. Watt. Even after practicing for just a week, he was deadly and dynamic. Not only did he finish the game with two sacks, including a forced fumble that Heyward recovered, he got a hit on Allen five times.
Alex Highsmith and Melvin Ingram were also very active in the backfield for the Steelers off the edge, but Heyward’s pressure along the interior was key as well. And he did that in the absence of Stephon Tuitt, who is on the Reserve/Injured List for at least two more games, and perhaps longer.
Still, they have enough in surplus to get some push from guys like Tyson Alualu, Chris Wormley, Isaiah Buggs, and Carlos Davis, the latter of whom was the first reserve to come into the game for the defensive line as a second-year player.
“We feel like we have quality rushers inside and out and when we get those opportunities, we feel like we’ve got to succeed”, Heyward said. “Our back end does an amazing job, kept the lid on everything. When we have that going from the back end to the front end, it’s pretty nice to see”.
The Steelers have been the best pass-rushing team in the NFL for going on half a decade now. They have topped 50 sacks per season in each of the past four years, breaking their own franchise record in the process, and doing so through a variety of means.
Even though they blitzed a lot last year, there were also games where they hardly blitzed at all, like on Sunday. It’s likely that Keith Butler’s unit will follow a similar course of action this season, tailoring their pressure packages to the opponent.
It’s always good to know that you can generate pressure with your front four pass rushers, but sometimes you’re better served with just that dash of extra pepper. They’ll get around to it in due course, but for Buffalo, it wasn’t needed.