The Pittsburgh Steelers have a couple of seriously mobile quarterbacks on their schedule in back-to-back weeks who, while not identical, both run an offense in which RPOs are a staple. Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin is hoping that they can learn some things about how the Miami Dolphins and quarterback Tua Tagovailoa handled their rush in the face of RPOs and apply that to their next opponent.
That would be the Philadelphia Eagles, 6-0 and coming off of a bye week. Quarterback Jalen Hurts has been quite a weapon thus far, and his presence adds a significant threat to the RPO game that Austin knows they have to be aware of.
“I think the RPOs will slow down the pressure and that’s a lot of times what they’re for”, he told reporters yesterday via team transcript. “We got a couple of those early, we had a couple pressures called and that ball was out before our guys could ever get there”.
While he did try to explain that they got some pressures and even put themselves in positions to pick off a number of balls that could have changed the discussion that they are having right now, he also acknowledged that there may be things they can do differently.
“You change, and you figure out how the flow of the game is going”, he said, adding that they have to do a better job of rushing generally. “Maybe we’ve got to do a couple of different things scheme-wise to help our guys get there”.
Their guys, well, haven’t been getting there very much since outside linebacker T.J. Watt got injured. While there is a perhaps slim chance of him returning for this game, it’s more likely they will have to wait for the other side of the bye week to see him back.
Only Alex Highsmith has recorded more than one sack (3.5 in fact) over the past six games without Watt. Cameron Heyward has one sack, and Larry Ogunjobi split a sack with Highsmith. In other words, this is much more than just an RPO issue, though that certainly doesn’t help.
“It’s one of those things where I just think we’ve got to figure out a way to get pressure and we’ve got to finish”, Austin said. “We had a couple times that we had him in the pocket and had [Tagovailoa] where we wanted him, and we didn’t finish. And that’s what we have to do”.
Hurts has taken 15 sacks this season in six games, averaging a sack on 7.5 percent of his dropbacks, which is high. But that doesn’t mean the Steelers are going to have the same kind of success. And it remains the case very much that this is a run-first offense, anyway.