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Alex Highsmith Says Steelers Pass Rush Mixed Things Up Against Panthers: ‘It Caused A Lot Of Helter-Skelter’

The Steelers defense was able to sack Panthers QB Sam Darnold four times in the team’s 24-16 Week 15 win, their highest total since they sacked Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow seven times in Week 1. Outside linebacker Alex Highsmith attributed the pass rush success to the Steelers mixing up their looks.

“Just continuing to mix up our rush game, not throwing the same thing at them, throwing different things and stuff at them. I felt we were able to get them off the spot, and when we were able to get them off the spot it caused a lot of helter-skelter, so we were able to get back there,” Highsmith said in his postgame press conference via the team’s YouTube channel.

Highsmith, who leads the team with 11 sacks, added one to his total today and he made some nice plays in the run game against Panthers rookie offensive tackle Ikem Okwonu. T.J. Watt also had his best game since he returned from a torn pectoral, adding 1.5 sacks, which is the same number that defensive lineman Cameron Heyward had today. Heyward almost had himself another sack, but Darnold was able to escape and scramble for a few yards. Highsmith, Watt and Heyward are the three stars of Pittsburgh’s front seven, and when all of them play as well as they did today, the Steelers usually win.

It was a vintage Steelers performance. They ran the ball successfully, particularly in the first half, and leaned on their defense to get the victory. While they’ve struggled when it comes to getting to the quarterback for most of this year, they have guys who can do it, and when it all comes together, the defense will look the way it did today with the pass rush being successful.

As a whole, the Steelers dominated up front. Carolina’s run game was ranked 13th in the league heading into today, but they could only manage 16 carries for 21 yards against the Steelers. Across the board, it was one of the best games the defense has played as a whole, and probably the second-best game out of the front seven besides Week 1. Watt has been dealing with an injury to his ribs he suffered after returning from his pec injury, but he said that injury is healing and he played like a fully healthy T.J. Watt today with 1.5 sacks. Having Watt fully healthy alongside Highsmith, Heyward and Larry Ogunjobi (five tackles, two for a loss) makes a world of difference for the Steelers’ defense.

While it probably won’t mean much in the scheme of things as the Steelers are unlikely to make the playoffs, it’s fun to see the defense operate the way we expected at the beginning of the season. It’s a unit with a whole lot of talent, and a performance like today reminds you of that. Hopefully, the defense can close out the year with a few more games like we saw in Carolina.

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