Say what you will about the rest of how the day played out, but the Pittsburgh Steelers’ pass rush was certainly in midseason form for their regular-season debut on Sunday afternoon against the Buffalo Bills. And the primary manner in which this was put on display was the frequency with which Bills defenders were forced to rely on holds—called and uncalled—to stop the defense from making plays.
Buffalo is actually supposed to have a good offensive line, particularly their offensive tackles. You wouldn’t know it based on the manner in which T.J. Watt, Alex Highsmith, and Melvin Ingram handled them. All three of them were able to draw a holding call against them in the first half alone. Chris Wormley also drew another holding call.
And there were certainly others that could have been called as well. Watt had his jersey held as he was pressuring Bills quarterback Josh Allen on the final defensive play of the first half when they were able to put a touchdown on the board. It was third and three, and obviously a significant moment. Still more would come in the second half, with I believe six called in all.
All Watt would offer when he was asked about the inflated number of holding calls in the game, and if it was only a product of it being called more: “no comment”. Not that there is much more you could say than that, without the risk of a fine. But everyone knows what it means.
You can’t rely on the officials. They got some holding calls. They could have gotten numerous others. It quickly became obvious that they were going to have to play through a lot of them, not being content with merely trying to sell a hold in the hopes of getting it called if they still had a shot at making a play.
This doesn’t excuse anything that may have happened in the game. It’s just to point out that the pass rush, for whatever other issues the Steelers may have, is where they need it to be, and it’s come strong out of the gate.
Even with Watt not practicing for most of the year. Even with Highsmith coming into this game with a groin injury. Even with Stephon Tuitt not available, dealing with a knee injury while on the Reserve/Injured List.
This may be the deepest that the Steelers’ pass rush has been in a while, and Tuitt’s eventual return will only further boost what they will be able to do. He may be their best one-on-one interior defensive lineman in terms of pure ability to win a matchup, when he’s healthy. The end there being the key.
But Pittsburgh’s three-deep edge platoon is already paying dividends. They have three starters with Watt, Highsmith, and Ingram. That is the biggest thing I choose to take away from this first game.