Alex Highsmith hasn’t played poorly in his second year. But after one of the most impressive training camps you’ll ever see, it’s fair to say he hasn’t made the jump it looked like he was on track to do. He seems to agree, telling reporters Wednesday he needs to stuff the stat sheet the rest of the year.
“I’m not happy with the way I’m playing production wise,” he told reporters via Steelers.com. “I know I’m starting to see the game. the game’s starting to slow down for me. But production wise I know it can be a lot better. And so I know that production is going to increase over the season. That’s what I’m looking forward to, starting with the Lions this game.”
In seven games this season, Highsmith’s stats are pedestrian. Just 1.5 sacks on the year, all coming in a Week 6 win over Seattle, to go with 28 total tackles and no turnovers created. Based on our charting, we have him down for nine pressures on the season, one pressure every 19.2 snaps. That’s an improvement over where it was after the team’s first four games of the year when it sat at 29.5. But that pressure rate is still noticeably worse than his rookie season when it was 13.9.
But there’s other context worth mentioning. Highsmith battled a groin injury early in the season, missing one game because of it, and other advanced metrics grade him out well. Pittsburgh dealt Melvin Ingram because they viewed Highsmith as their starter. He knows he has to produce like it.
“I know that I can produce better than I have been. And so I know that I’m going to start doing that. Just continue to work and just continued effort. Having a good week’s preparation, studying more film, what can I do extra to be able to help me produce more.”
Pittsburgh’s on pace for just 46.75 sacks this season which would break their streak of 50+ sack seasons even with the benefit of an extra regular season game. One reason for that is how concentrated the Steelers’ sacks have come. TJ Watt has 11.5 but he’s the only player with more than three. Only Cam Heyward is projected to have more than five sacks this year.
Highsmith doesn’t need to be a 10+ sack edge rusher but he should fall in that 6-7 range to serve as a strong complement to Watt, just as Bud Dupree did in his final two seasons with the team.