The Pittsburgh Steelers only blitzed a small handful of times on Sunday against the Buffalo Bills in their opener, this despite the fact that quarterback Josh Allen dropped back to pass 54 times over the course of the game. It didn’t stop them from being among the most effective defenses in the league for the week in generating pressure.
The defense has become adept at applying pressure through any means over the course of the past few years, which is why they have led the league in sacks in each of the past three. They can pressure with their front four, or they can get home with their effective blitzes, as well. Neither approach is surprising coming from Pittsburgh.
“We’re going to do what we can. The game plan is gonna change every week”, defensive coordinator Keith Butler said on Thursday regarding the team’s blitzing tendencies. “Sometimes we’re gonna blitz and sometimes we’re not”.
“We like our four-man rush. We think it’s been pretty good”, he added. “We blitzed a little bit last year. It helped us out. We ended up leading the league the last three or four years in sacks. We’ve got to keep doing that. We’ve got to keep putting pressure on the quarterback as much as we can”.
Though the Bills have a pretty solid offensive line with strength at the tackle positions, the coaches felt it would be most effective to drop seven in coverage against Allen, trusting that their front four would get home, and for the most part, that strategy did pay off.
They won’t necessarily duplicate that same blueprint as they prepare to face quarterback Derek Carr and the Las Vegas Raiders, who visit the Steelers for their home opener on Sunday. Many times, the best plan is the one that your opponent is least able to predict and plan for.
I do imagine that they will blitz some more against the Raiders, in part just due to being more comfortable with a game under their belt and in a home crowd. Inside linebackers Devin Bush and Joe Schobert will be in better position to do so, the former with game experience on his repaired knee and Schobert now having had the chance to run the defense in Pittsburgh.
You know the Steelers love their A Gap blitzes, and both Bush and Schobert are capable blitzers—you pretty much have to be to be an inside linebacker here—so I’m sure Carr will have more thrown at him in front of his face than Allen had.
And the Steelers have already strongly hinted that they will use some three-outside-linebacker packages, though they haven’t specified how that would work. Would it take an inside linebacker off the field? A lineman? A defensive back? Would they all rush the passer?