After finishing the season 9-8-1, one clear positive stood out from the 2021 Steelers: the pass rush. They led the league in sacks with 56 on the season. T.J. Watt accounted for a huge portion of those 56 sacks, but other guys did their part as well.
Cam Heyward registered double-digit sacks again and one player took a much-needed leap: Alex Highsmith in his sophomore season. Highsmith was elevated into a starting role in 2021 after sitting behind Bud Dupree in 2020. He edged out veteran Melvin Ingram for that starting spot opposite of Watt, even forcing Ingram to eventually want out of Pittsburgh.
In Highsmith’s first full season starting, he was a good complement to Watt. He ended the year with six sacks, a forced fumble, 15 QB hits, and 15 tackles for loss. The linebacker proved his worth in the run game as well, something required out of Steelers outside linebackers in their 3-4. With that being said, he’s already focused on improvements for Year 3.
“I think I have a lot of the same goals [for 2022] that I had this year. For me, just really working on finishing, finishing the top of my rushes,” Highsmith said via Steelers.com in an interview with Missi Matthews. “There was so many plays and rushes where I was right by the quarterback, but just didn’t finish. Whether he stepped up or the offensive line was still on me, [I just didn’t finish].”
Highsmith was able to finish the season very strong, something that makes Steeler fans anxious for his development in 2022. In the last four games of the season, Highsmith racked up 11 pressures, four sacks, and four tackles for loss. The Year 2 to Year 3 jump will be crucial in his evolvement as a complete player.
“So just really working on things like that to help me finish my rushes to be able to reach that double-digit sack point. [It’s] something that’s gonna be an emphasis in my training this year.”
While he fell four sacks short of that goal this season, that kind of improvement next season would be huge for the Steelers defense. A pass-rushing trio of Highsmith-Watt-Heyward would help return the Steelers’ defense to form. Health continues to be a deciding factor, but three double-digit sack guys makes it hard to double-team anyone on the Steelers’ defense.
Highsmith used his deadly spin move as a go-to this season, including this one against the Chargers. His bull rush was effective on multiple occasions, as well.
Combining that spin move with more complete finishes to plays will result in a much more complete player. He was much closer to double-digit sack numbers in 2021 than the initial stats suggest. In 2022, expect a big season from Alex Highsmith.