‘Can’t Be A Sitting Duck’ Heyward On Blitzing Eagles’ Hurts

The Pittsburgh Steelers are preparing to face the NFL’s only undefeated team in the Philadelphia Eagles. In doing so, they will face quarterback Jalen Hurts, who is having his best season to date in his young career. As NFL teams are beginning to blitz Hurts to throw his game off, especially given that he is a rushing threat. Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward was asked about the team’s plan to apply pressure against Hurts in a Thursday press conference on the team’s website.

“You can blitz, but it’s not always successful,” Heyward said when asked if it’s ideal to blitz Hurts. “You can’t be a sitting duck, you gotta make sure you’re in attack mode.”

The Steelers’ pass rush is still suffering the loss of reigning DPOY T.J. Watt. After leading or co-leading the league in sacks from 2017-2021, the team now ranks in the bottom 11 for sacks. For perspective, the team got seven sacks against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 1, and have five sacks in the six games since. The team also ranks in the bottom four in ESPN’s pass rush win rate.

Though the defense is adjusting to playing without Watt, having shut out a strong Miami Dolphins’ offense in their most recent matchup, they are not doing so by applying pressure.

For Hurts, his play does indeed suffer when he is blitzed. According to premium stats by Pro Football Focus, his passing grade is 61.0 and passer rating is 75.2 when blitzed as opposed to 90.1 and 110.8 when not blitzed. Notably, this holds true regardless of whether the blitz creates pressure.

“I just think the way the rules are, you have to treat ’em like a running back,” Heyward continued when asked how they are planning to counter Hurts’ rushing abilities. “You can’t just sit back and let them follow their reads because they can potentially run the ball. I think that’s always been our mantra…you gotta hit the quarterback.”

Dating back to his time playing for Alabama, Hurts’ legs are indeed a big part of his game and what makes him difficult to play against. After ranking first in rushing yards among quarterbacks for rushing yards, Hurts now ranks fourth, as he is an increasingly willing passer to compliment his rushing abilities.

Interestingly, Hurts’ rushing abilities also suffer when he is blitzed, even moreso than when he is actually pressured. For perspective, he has a 53.7 PFF rushing grade when blitzed, compared to 73.2 when he is not, and 75.6 when he is pressured.

The Steelers are no stranger to mobile quarterbacks, playing in the same division as Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson. If past trends suggest anything, however, it’s that the team must blitz Hurts early and often.

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