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Alex Highsmith Focusing On Being ‘Best Self’ In Midst Of Steelers’ Pass Rush Struggles

After an offseason full of hard work, Pittsburgh Steelers third-year outside linebacker Alex Highsmith has to be feeling good about the tape he’s put out there as a pass rusher through seven games.

Highsmith currently leads the NFL in sacks with 6.5 on the season, already a career high, and is closing in on achieving his offseason goal of double-digit sacks.

The Steelers as a whole though can’t be feeling good about the pass rush without star outside linebacker T.J. Watt. After a dominant display in Week 1 to open the 2022 season against the Cincinnati Bengals, in which the Steelers sacked quarterback Joe Burrow seven times and forced five turnovers, the Steelers have recorded just five sacks in the last six games, playing a part in the Steelers losing five of their last six.

Veteran outside linebacker Malik Reed was brought in via trade prior to final roster cuts to provide the Steelers with an experienced No. 3 behind Highsmith and Watt, but pressed into a starting role after Watt went down with a pectoral injury late in Week 1, he hasn’t done much of anything from a pass rush perspective.

Neither has star defensive lineman Cameron Heyward or free agent signee Larry Ogunjobi. The duo up front has played really well against the run, but they aren’t generating much pressure against the passer. That was again the case Sunday night against the Miami Dolphins in primetime. Granted, the lack of pressure Sunday night had a great deal to do with Tua Tagovailoa getting the football out quickly.

Still, there’s some frustration there from the pass rushers, especially Highsmith. While he’s having a dominant year, he knows the group needs to do more without Watt. For now, the third-year pro is focusing on being his “best self” as a pass rusher, he stated to reporters Wednesday from inside the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, according to video via the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s Chris Adamski.

“I just want to go out there and continue to be my best, play my best for the team,” Highsmith stated to reporters, according to video via Adamski. “I think guys have stepped in and done quality work for us, but I think just being there and trying to be my best self right now is all that I can do.”

Asked if he likes seeing his name atop the sacks leaders through seven weeks, Highsmith downplayed that feat, again adding that he’s just trying to be his best self and isn’t focusing on the stats.

Outside of Highsmith having a rather strong 2022 season, it’s been a one-man show from a pass rush perspective without Watt. Highsmith is already up to 24 pressures on the season. The next closest on the Steelers is Heyward with 10. After that, Ogunjobi and Reed have eight each, while Chris Wormley has six and Robert Spillane has four.

Guys really need to step up around Highsmith. He’s not able to do it all on his own, especially as teams start to throw more stuff at him to slow him down, much like the Dolphins did in Week 7, cutting him, throwing an extra blocker at him and chipping him, slowing him down even further against a quick-strike passing attack.

The Steelers’ defense has done a good job of limiting big plays through the air and has improved against the run defensively. It just isn’t generating the type of pressure it has in the past, and it’s costing it.

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