The Pittsburgh Steelers led the league in sacks after Week 1, taking down the Cincinnati Bengals’ Joe Burrow seven times. Three of those takedowns came courtesy of third-year outside linebacker Alex Highsmith, who has continued to produce since with 3.5 more sacks in the past three games.
The rest of the team, not so much, not since T.J. Watt was injured in the opener. They’ve only added five sacks to that total, most of it from Highsmith. He split one with Larry Ogunjobi, and Cameron Heyward added a second. That’s the complete list.
But while sacks haven’t been earth-shattering, the pace of pressure has picked up generally, and the front seven had perhaps its best game in that regard on Sunday against quarterback Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers since the opener. Heyward seemed to agree, acknowledging on his podcast that “it was better this week”.
“I just thought the pass rush was very sound and solid. Very educated rushes for the most part”, he said. “You have to have four-man rushes to beat [Tom Brady]. It’s not blitzes most of the time. When we were watching the sack reel during our film study, there was only one time we saw where they had a blitz used against them that hit home for a sack”.
The Steelers only sacked Brady twice—once from Highsmith, a strip-sack, and once from Heyward—but they also generated five hits, Ogunjobi netting two, and the pressure generally was successful in keeping the quarterback uncomfortable.
And as noted, they did so without much dressing, and virtually no blitzing. Because they found—and history has shown—that that’s not how you beat Brady or get to him. If you bring an extra blitzer, he’s going to find where the weak spot in coverage as a result and get that pass out.
Still, there is an acute understanding in the locker room about the fact that this game is only significant if they follow it up. If this is not the start of something more—more pressure, more sacks, more wins, specifically—then it’s just another game.
“I thought there were some good instances right there, mixing it up, doing different things”, Heyward said. “But you can’t just be judged off of one game. We’ve got to do it next week. We’re playing a good offense in the Miami Dolphins”.