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Zac Taylor On Steelers’ Pass Rush: ‘You Can’t Undersell’ Alex Highsmith

Alex Highsmith

When offensive coordinators begin their game preparation for the Pittsburgh Steelers, there’s a good chance they start by focusing on T.J. Watt, the team’s first-team All-Pro pass rusher. Were it not for injuries causing him to miss some time, he would probably be on pace to break the NFL’s sack record right now.

The Steelers are, in fact, coming off a game right now in which he did not play due to injury, but he is back to face the Cincinnati Bengals—who were spared his presence back in Week 3 due to a groin injury. This time they’re not so lucky, but they know he’s not the only rusher they have to worry about.

You can’t undersell [Alex] Highsmith”, third-year Bengals head coach Zac Taylor said earlier this week. “He has done a great job here in his second year. He started to come on at the end of last year. I thought he started the year out really strong when we played them in that third game. He just continues to get better and better”.

A third-round pick in 2020 out of Charlotte, Highsmith spent the majority of his rookie season functioning as a rotational outside linebacker behind Watt and Bud Dupree, who is now with the Tennessee Titans after signing with them as an unrestricted free agent. Highsmith has been in that role all season, however, aside from the first Bengals game, which he also missed due to a groin injury.

Cincinnati got lucky in that one given whom they didn’t have to play, and it frankly showed in the pass rush the Steelers were able to muster. But that won’t be the case tomorrow. “There is nobody that allows you to relax”, Taylor said, adding that you can’t say, “’we have this one under control, we will focus on these other two guys’. They have a lot of other interior guys that are coming along”.

Of course, it would be more formidable if they could ever get Stephon Tuitt back this season, but it’s increasingly not looking to be the case. But there is Cameron Heyward, who continues to play at an All-Pro level at the age of 32.

“There is a reason why they had a sack for however many games they had, and they continue to jump back on that train”, Taylor said. “They do that. They put pressure on the quarterback. They hit him. They have really savvy guys behind them that understand we’re going to get a rush whether it’s four or pressure and here is how we can play the coverages behind it. They always had a strong defense, and it will require our best on Sunday”.

As their pass rush this season been as good as it had been in recent years? Perhaps not, though there are numerous factors that go into that. But whenever Watt and Heyward are on the field, you can’t let up, and when Highsmith is playing up to his abilities, as he did down the stretch this past Sunday, then this defense—at least the pass rush, assuming the coverage can hold up—is hard to stop.

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