While anemic might be too strong a word, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ pass rush left a lot on the table this past Sunday against quarterback Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals, who now lead the AFC North at 3-1 heading into this weekend’s games.
Compared to their typical performance, including that of the first two games of the season, they looked quite lacking. That was due in part to the fact that the Bengals only dropped back to pass a couple dozen times, including a handful of scrambles from Burrow, but the bottom line is they didn’t bring him down once.
Of course you can’t ignore the fact that both T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith, their starting outside linebackers, were out for the game, but both will return this Sunday against the Green Bay Packers, and they know that they must perform. But for Watt, it’s just another day.
“No added pressure”, he told reporters earlier today, when he asked about whether or not the lack of pressure last week, and the general lack of blitzing, puts more strain on the front four. “My whole life and everything here, we’re built for moments like this. We’re built for whatever the coaches throw at us”.
Cameron Heyward may only have one sack, but he has been playing as well as he ever has so far for the Steelers along the interior of that defensive line. Whenever Stephon Tuitt gets back, assuming he can be at full health, this front four will be a as viable and vicious as any in the NFL.
Yet that never stopped them from blitzing in the past. Of course, they still blitz, but they haven’t done it a lot this year in comparison to the recent past. Perhaps that has something to do with the loss of their two best blitzers, cornerback Mike Hilton and linebacker Vince Williams, who last season had a competition earlier in the year to see who would record more sacks.
“It’s all a week-in, week-out basis of what we do on defense”, Watt said about what the pressure scheme would be and whether or not it would emphasize blitzing. “That’s the really cool thing about being here, is you never know what you can do. We can blitz a lot. We don’t have to blitz a lot. So we’ll see what we do this week”.
It’s always preferable when possible to be able to get away with rushing only four defenders and dropping seven into coverage, provided that those four rushers are capable of at least forcing the ball out of the quarterback’s hands.
That didn’t happen enough this past Sunday, but perhaps better results will be yielded with the reintroduction of Watt and Highsmith to the starting lineup. Not that quarterback Aaron Rodgers makes anything easier.