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Steelers’ Pass Rush Tabbed As Team’s ‘Strongest Unit’ By Football Outsiders

When looking at the roster of the Pittsburgh Steelers ahead of the 2022 season, there are two position units that truly stand out among the rest, in terms of strength.

Those two units? Offensive playmakers and the pass rush. With names like T.J. Watt, Cameron Heyward, Diontae Johnson, Najee Harris and more leading those units, it’s very clear those are the two strengths of the Steelers’ roster at this point in the offseason ahead of training camp.

Football Outsiders writer Robert Weintraub seems to agree, calling the Steelers’ pass rush the team’s “strongest unit” for the black and gold ahead of the upcoming season in a piece that published Friday on ESPN, detailing the strongest unit for all 32 teams in the NFL.

Elsewhere in the AFC North, the Bengals’ strong unit is the wide receivers, running backs for the Browns, and safeties for the Ravens.

“It’s a bit of a cheat, since the pass rush in Pittsburgh incorporates both edge-rusher linebackers like T.J. Watt and down linemen like Cameron Heyward. We list the pass rush here for the Steelers largely thanks to the brilliance of those two players. Watt and Heyward combined for 31.5 sacks, 21 hits and 61 hurries in 2021,” Weintraub writes regarding selecting the Steelers’ pass rush as the team’s strongest unit for Football Outsiders and ESPN. “The Steelers have been forever defined by getting after the passer, and lately they have done it as well as at any point in their proud history. Last season, they led the NFL in sacks for the fifth straight year, and they have been first or second in adjusted sack rate each season in that span.

“Pittsburgh’s defense was hardly dominant otherwise, finishing 27th in DVOA against the run, for example. It’s likely that the pass rush will again be the key element to defensive success in 2022.”

Having two All-Pros and the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year as key parts of the unit certainly helps make it the strongest on the roster. It’s pretty remarkable that the pass rush remains the team’s strength, even with the loss of Stephon Tuitt to retirement two years removed from a career-high 11.0 sacks in 2019.

With Watt leading the charge, the Steelers have led the NFL in sacks in each of the last five seasons. This year, they have a chance to lead the NFL for a sixth season, and could realistically hit 60 sacks to become the first team since the Carolina Panthers in 2013 to accomplish that feat.

It’s not just Watt and Heyward though, both of whom are among the best in the league at their positions. Third-year outside linebacker Alex Highsmith is poised for a significant step forward entering his second full season as a starter opposite Watt. He’s quietly developed into a terrific pass rusher overall with a trio of standout moves to beat blockers.

Adding a name like Larry Ogunjobi to the roster will also help from an interior pass rush perspective in an attempt to fill the void left behind by Tuitt. Veteran Chris Wormley also returns to the unit, coming off of a career-high 7.0 sacks. With some added depth behind the stars, the Steelers’ pass rush unit looks to be one of the top units in the NFL in general, let alone within the Steelers overall.

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