If you ask any random football fan what they most know about the Pittsburgh Steelers and the way they play, there’s a good chance the answer you’ll get is a strong pass rush. For the past several years, the Steelers have been the best pass-rushing team in the league, particularly when measured by sacks, in which statistic they have led every season for the past few years.
They’re a little off the pace to lead again this year, with 22 sacks in eight games, but they rank third in total pressure percentage according to Pro Football Reference. And whenever T.J. Watt is on the field, you know you’ve got a problem. Detroit Lions head coach Dan Campbell is very much aware of it.
“Pressure. Pressure. I’ll tell you what, nobody has done it like they have for as long as they have in a very similar system”, he told reporters earlier this week when he was asked what he expects to see from the Steelers when they host this Sunday. “They built a culture and they play relentless defense. They find a way to get turnovers. They have a bully mentality”.
More than half of the Steelers’ sacks have come from just one man, Watt, who has 11.5 in the season, just a half sack behind the leader, the Cleveland Browns’ Myles Garrett, who has played nine games to Watt’s seven. But they’re also getting pressure from Cameron Heyward and Alex Highsmith—whether or not Stephon Tuitt, who had double-digit sacks last year, makes it back any time soon, remains to be seen.
“Look, we’ve got our hands full, but it’s why you play the game”, Campbell said of preparing to face the Steelers’ pass rush. “We’re not going out there to just get punched in the face either, but we have to know what we’re getting ready to walk into, which I think we’re all very aware of”.
The Lions’ pass protection this season has been…not great. First-round pick Penei Sewell has been moved back to right tackle as they prepare to get left tackle Taylor Decker back, who has been out all season due to a finger injury, so he could help upgrade their pass protection. But it’s just one move, and Watt won’t mind going up against Sewell. Possessions may be hard to come by if Pittsburgh’s offense can control the game on the ground, as well, as they’ve intended in recent weeks.
“It’s tough and this team’s built off defense and they run it on offense”, Campbell said. They’ve really invested a lot in this running back. Najee (Harris), it kind of goes through him right now. Of course, Ben (Roethlisberger) can always and still will hurt you. But yeah, this will be a tough matchup”.
The Lions are winless on the season, but the Steelers are aware that records don’t mean anything once the ball is kicked off. “Listen, we’re not exactly the best team in football right now”, Roethlisberger said when asked about the potential of overlooking a winless opponent. “They’re trying to get a win and so are we”.