On a night in which a dominant defensive performance was needed, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ pass rush turned up the heat on Cleveland Browns’ quarterback Baker Mayfield, sacking the young Cleveland quarterback nine times — seven of which came from a trio of outside linebackers — resulting in a 26-14 win over the Browns at Heinz Field Monday night, keeping Pittsburgh’s slim playoffs hopes alive.
All-Pro and likely Defensive Player of the Year award winner T.J. Watt certainly stole the show on Monday night against the Browns, sacking Mayfield four times to become the 12th player in NFL history to eclipse 20 sacks in a season, but when Watt wasn’t terrorizing the Browns’ signal caller, it was young outside linebackers in Alex Highsmith and Derrek Tuszka who put the pressure on, combining for three sacks.
After the dominant performance at Heinz Field that sent Ben Roethlisberger off into the sunset with a win, Watt praised the young outside linebackers for their performance in front of a national audience as the defense tormented the Browns’ talented offensive line snap after snap.
“They’re performing well. The depth we have at outside linebacker, and Taco [Charlton] is one as well, it’s very, very good depth,” Watt said to reporters following the win, according to video via the Steelers’ official YouTube page. “Just continuing to grow and get better, Alex [Highsmith], I mean, you guys saw him all preseason and just the growth, the jump that he’s taken from year one to year two. I tell him all the time the sacks are gonna come. The stats are gonna come, but just glad he was able to get a couple tonight. And then Derrek [Tuszka], I mean, I think his first sack was a sack fumble against Tennessee a couple weeks ago. I know it cause I wanna be in there so much that it does suck that it takes away from their reps, but they’re so selfless and they never complain and they make the most outta their opportunities. And that’s why I’m just so happy that Derrek was able to get that play tonight.”
Highsmith hasn’t quite had the production — in terms of raw stats — that many were hoping for when the Steelers let Bud Dupree walk in free agency last offseason, but the second-year pro out of Charlotte has quietly come into his own. The pressures off the edge are certainly there at a high rate, and he’s improved each and every week as a run defender.
On Monday night, Highsmith dominated Cleveland left tackle Jedrick Wills, who is one of the better left tackles in football, and certainly one of the more athletic ones. Highsmith’s two sacks were at pivotal points in Cleveland drives, while Tuszka’s was rather impressive, subbing in for Watt and then rocking Baker Mayfield with a blindside shot that set up a 3rd and 17 deep in Cleveland territory that really ignited the home crowd.
After many weeks of frustration with the pass rush opposite TJ Watt after Melvin Ingram was traded, Highsmith, Tuszka and Taco Charlton have done a nice job silencing some of the doubters and detractors while earning praise from the best pass rusher in football.