The Pittsburgh Steelers did well enough pressuring the quarterback for the first two games of the season. They hardly generated any pressure at all this past week, though in their defense, they didn’t face a ton of pass attempts, either, and sometimes they forced Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow to scramble.
But what defensive coordinator Keith Butler is really looking for his defense to do is not only to create pressure, but to convert that pressure into takeaways. The defense only has two of them so far this season, even though they have forced five fumbles, recovering just one of them back in the opener.
They got their second takeaway of the year on Sunday when Burrow made a bad pass, which was initially deflected by Minkah Fitzpatrick, and eventually captured by his fellow safety, Terrell Edmunds. It was really their first stab at an interception all season. They need more.
“We need to pressure the quarterback and make him feel uncertain, and maybe you intercept the ball from him”, Butler told reporters yesterday, via transcript. “We need some interceptions. We get some interceptions, and it will do a lot of things to the mind of the quarterback. If you watch that quarterback and what happened to him in the last game that he played, he had some stuff that hit him in the face a little bit that was tough for him. He overcame it. We’ve got to apply that pressure all the time and try to get him while he’s down and we didn’t do it”.
He is referring to Burrow, who threw three interceptions in the week prior to this past Sunday. It got him rattled for a bit before the Bengals tried to marshal a too-little, too-late comeback in what has been so far their only loss of the season.
They should, in theory, be able to do that. It’s not as though they lost their big splash play guys. Fitzpatrick has nine interceptions over the past two seasons. Cornerback Joe Haden has seven. And T.J. Watt is the guy who gets the ball out for fumbles (he does have two strip sacks already this year).
The Steelers have finished first or second in takeaways in each of the past two seasons, a primary catalyst for their relative success in those years. Their offense this year is certainly not going to be winning many shootouts, nor grinding an opponent into submission, so they’d better find a way to put them on some short fields sooner rather than later.