In four regular season games as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers, veteran inside linebacker and free agent addition Myles Jack has had a solid impact overall on defense, leading the Steelers with 43 tackles through four games, putting him on pace to break the Steelers’ single-season all-time tackles record held by former captain James Farrior at 141.
Farrior set the Steelers’ single-season record 141 total stops (96 solo) back in 2003. Jack, through four games, has 43 total tackles (24 solo), putting him on pace for nearly 198 total stops on the season. That would blow away Farrior’s mark and put Jack at fifth all-time in combined tackles in a single season, edging out former Lions standout Chris Spielman with 195 tackles back in 1994.
While Jack has been good, at least from a box score perspective, consistently leading the team in tackles week after week, there’s more to it than just tackling defensively. On Sunday against the New York Jets, Jack — much like the rest of the Steelers defense — had an up and down performances.
There were flashes of brilliance against the run, and flashes of inconsistency and inability at times, leading to some big plays for the Jets. In coverage, Jack looked comfortable playing in man, but he was easily manipulated in zone coverage by Zach Wilson’s eyes, leading to some big windows to throw into for huge completions.
Jack has been solid to this point in the season for the Steelers, but the inflated tackling numbers are clouding some people’s judgement of him so far. Granted, he’s the best linebacker the Steelers have had since Ryan Shazier inside, but the bar — outside of Vince Williams and a rookie season Devin Bush — is low.
Let’s dive into the tape.
Against the Jets on Sunday, Jack graded out at 52.2 overall against the run via Pro Football Focus on Sunday, which checked out with the All-22 tape.
He was sound at times taking on blocks, shedding and then making the play, but other times he was completely swallowed up by blockers, leading to some large running lanes for New York running backs Breece Hall and Michael Carter.
On the year, Jack sits at just a 53.1 against the run, per PFF. He’s racking up tackles, but they’re often 5 yards downfield, which can be a problem the more and more they add up. In fact, he has just two tackles for loss on the season.
Jack started off the game against the Jets playing rather well, flowing sideline to sideline, slipping blocks and making plays against the run.
This rep here in the first quarter was impressive from Jack overall. He did a great job of staying square to the line of scrimmage and letting his eyes take him to the hole, sliding laterally, slipping off a block and meeting Carter in the hole, with Devin Bush, for the short gain on the ground.
With Jack, sometimes it’s the plays that don’t show up in the stats sheet that are his best in a game.
Again facing a run play from the Jets, Jack does an excellent job go getting half man against the New York offensive lineman, creating separation with his punch to then get his head back outside the blocker and into the hole, turning Carter back inside towards help.
That’s gap integrity right there, and something the Steelers desperately need from their inside linebackers moving forward against the run. Both Bush and Jack had done a nice job in instances like this, but it needs to be more consistent.
When Jack stays disciplined and trusts his eyes, he almost always around the football to make a play.
This rep on the goal line against the Jets was another strong one for the veteran linebacker.
Jack does a great job of getting to his gap quickly to cover for the blitzing Bush. Watch the hesitation eh shows here in front of the pulling guard. That slight hesitation had the guard turn back outside to the more prominent threat, freeing Jack up to come downhill and pop Carter, along with Alex Highsmith, at the line of scrimmage, stopping the New York running back short of the goal line.
That’s really heady stuff there.
He has his issues though with linemen climbing to the next level to reach him, especially when he doesn’t get that initial separation with his hands.
This rep late in the first half was a rough one from Jack as the backup New York right guard in Nate Herbig swallows him up at the point of attack, allowing Hall to race right by for the big gain, putting the Jets in scoring position. New York eventually turned it over, but Jack has to be better at either slipping that block or blowing up Herbig in the hole to help his teammates win that rep.
That said, when he’s truly attacking downhill, he’s really good at getting off blocks and making plays near the line of scrimmage.
Here in the second half, Jack does a fantastic job getting outside of the pulling guard to bounce off of him with a shoulder and then is able to get to Hall at the line of scrimmage or the big run stuff. That’s a tough play to make, but Jack makes it look very easy. At times, it is for the veteran linebacker.
The key with Jack when playing the run is his ability to use his hands to keep blockers at bay, allowing him to use his eyes and search for the football while controlling the blocker in front of him.
He showed that in the fourth quarter against the Jets.
That’s a fantastic job of gaining control of the climbing lineman with hands to the chest, keeping him at bay, and then using his eyes to search and find the football, making the stop for the short gain.
However, Jack ended the day against the run on a very sour note on Hall’s 5-yard go-ahead rushing touchdown.
He’s right there in the hole to make the tackle for loss, keep the Jets out of the end zone and force them to burn a timeout, giving the Steelers more blades of grass to defend. He’s been good in the tackling department all season long, but this was his lone miss of the day, and it was a costly one.
Those are the types of plays he was brought in via free agency to make, so it’s painful to see him miss in this one-on-one instance near the goal line with the game on the line. It can’t happen, but it did and the Steelers ultimately lost because of it.
On the year, Jack has a 63.6 overall grade in coverage from Pro Football Focus. Against the Jets in Week 4, Jack graded out at a 60.5, his second-lowest mark of the season.
A lot of that is due to his struggles in zone coverage where Wilson and the Jets were able to throw behind him often in the middle of the field for big gains. He also had a tendency to bite hard on play-action in the loss, leading to some sizable gains.
However, he also had a few positive reps in coverage as well.
The first rep in coverage that I wanted take a look at with Jack in coverage came on this throw to Tyler Conklin off of play-action where Jack and Bush bit very, very hard, leaving the middle of the field wide open.
There’s been a significant emphasis placed on stopping the run early in the season with the Steelers defense, so it’s understandable to see the inside linebackers firing downhill the way that they did here. However, Jack has to read his keys and understand what’s happening. Conklin never even attempted to block him.
You can see Jack drop his head in frustration once he realizes his mistake, but it’s a massive play in the end for the Jets, getting them out of bad field position.
He was able to bounce back later on the same drive in man coverage against Carter out of the backfield, turning in his best rep of the day in coverage.
That’s a matchup the Jets undoubtedly wanted to get with Carter, but Jack does a tremendous job getting hands on Carter early to delay the route just slightly. He might have gotten away with a bit of a tug of the jersey and some contact as Carter turned it upfield, but that’s a great job by Jack to flips his hips and get back into phase, forcing the tough throw.
That’s also the play that Terrell Edmunds was concussed on.
The Jets tried to run a similar concept later in the game and Jack had it snuffed out the whole way.
He does a great job of clicking and closing to get into the vicinity of Carter, but makes sure he doesn’t over-pursue it and give up the double move vertically, forcing Wilson to dump it off short to Carter and take no gain on the play. After seeing how he played it previously, you can see his processing ability and recall here on this play, leading to the major win in space.
Throughout much of the game Jack really struggled in zone coverage. Based on his body language after catches over the middle, you could tell Jack was disappointed on certain reps. He did a really nice job on this one though, getting good depth on his initial drop with Bush to cut off the crossing route to Garrett Wilson, forcing the check down to Hall out of the backfield.
From there that’s when Jack is at his best on the rep, firing downhill, adjusting his angle quickly to ensure he’s going to get to Hall, and then does a great job getting him on the ground in space for the short gain.
Overall it was an up and down game filled with some highs and some lows for Jack, much like the Steelers defense. He started off strong, but faded down the stretch, especially on the final defensive play from scrimmage. He’s playing relatively well overall on the season, but he is not playing at as high of a level as his stats might represent.