Study: How Does Alex Highsmith Win On Third Down?

Alex Highsmith

Yesterday, we profiled Derrek Tuszka and recapped his third and fourth down pass rush moves. Today, we’ll do the same with Alex Highsmith, a more marquee name and starting ROLB for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2021. Using Highsmith will also give us a much larger and better sample size than Tuszka. Because we looked at Highsmith last year, we can also compare and contrast the data.

Here’s a breakdown of the pass rush moves Highsmith employed on third and fourth down throughout the 2021 regular season. To be clear, “contain” means times he really didn’t try a move and simply attempted to keep the quarterback in the pocket or on boots run to his way.

Check out the data with an analysis below.

Pass Rush Move Rush Attempts Rush Wins Rush Win %
Bull 41 10 24.4%
Spin (Inside) 16 5 31.3%
Stunt (Crasher) 14 2 14.3%
Contain 13 2 15.4%
Rip 12 4 33.3%
Swipe 8 2 25%
N/A (Screen/RPO) 7 N/A N/A
Cross Chop 6 1 16.7%
Dip/Ghost 5 3 60%
Interior Rush 3 0 0%
Spin (Outside) 2 0 0%
Swim 1 0 0%
TOTAL 121 29 24.0%


*To be clear, the total attempts reflect 121 even though the math adds up to 128 if you go column-by-column. I did not count the N/A in the total since he couldn’t “win” on those reps but wanted to still show them in the data.

By far, bull rush was Highsmith’s most popular move, though it is combined with the occasional move stringed with it, like a bull and rip (identified twice). Some of that, in theory, could be him containing and not rushing as hard to the quarterback. Overall, it was fairly effective and crucially, much better than a year ago. Here are his bull rush rates on third/fourth down over the last two years.

2020 Bull Rush Success: 1 of 13 (7.7%)
2021 Bull Rush Success: 10 of 41 (24.4%)

Success rate has more than tripled compared to a year ago. That’s big.

Elsewhere, he certainly leaned on his spin move more this year and when it works, it works big. Much better spinning inside than the occasional outside spin. It’s a move he started to work on late last year and carried it over in his sophomore season.

Some of his weaker numbers are on stunts and contain which are hard to expect much from, moreso than other 1v1 moves. He could also do away with the cross chop. Not one of my favorite moves in general and I don’t like guys leaving both feet on their rushes against a strong, 300+ pound tackle. I did expect his dip/ghost to be used more this year but didn’t often see it on money downs.

Big-picture, his 2020 win rate on third down was 15.7%, 13 of 83 chances. In 2021, his win rate was 24.0%, 29 of 121 chances. A real improvement and encouraging sign as he heads into his third season.

Next up, we’ll focus in on T.J. Watt and his rush stats.

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