There were question marks for most of the offseason about what the Pittsburgh Steelers’ pass rush, particularly off the edge, would look like after Bud Dupree left in free agency and the team had not made any significant moves to address the outside linebacker position.
They still had T.J. Watt, of course, who has five sacks and a couple forced fumbles to his credit already this season, but second-year Alex Highsmith was at least something of a question mark, and there was no appreciable depth. Cassius Marsh, who is currently a free agent, ran most of the offseason as their number three.
Then they signed Melvin Ingram. And then Highsmith had an awesome training camp. And then the groin injuries hit. It was hard to keep even two of them on the field at the same time through the first four weeks of the season, let alone three, but they were able to do that today, and head coach Mike Tomlin said after the win that it had been their plan all along.
“We know all three of those guys are rush capable, but very rarely have we had all three guys going into a game, or from a preparation of a game standpoint”, he told reporters. “I think Buffalo was the last time that we went into a game like that. That’s something that we had been intent on getting to, but you need player availability to make that happen”.
Highsmith entered the regular-season opener already nursing a groin injury, and Watt suffered one in the first half of week two. They both missed the following game, and were still recovering last week despite playing. Today’s game is probably the freshest the trio has been since training camp.
“We had a good week with all three guys, talking about 90 (Watt), 8 (Ingram), and 56 (Highsmith), so we utilized all three of them on those possession downs in an effort to get a top-quality rush”, Tomlin said.
With that being said, the group did not do anything particularly spectacular on Denver Broncos quarterback Teddy Bridgewater’s 41 dropbacks. The defense as a whole did sack him two times (plus another that they chose to negate by accepting a penalty), but the three of them only produced two quarterback hits combined, both by Watt.
Still, it offers them a potent package that should be effective over the course of time. It’s rough when three of your top five pass rushers (including Stephon Tuitt) start the season, or very near the beginning of the year, less than 100 percent, so hopefully they trend in the right direction from a health standpoint, as well as a production standpoint.