You don’t reach 14.5 sacks by accident. You do it with a plan. Alex Highsmith has a good one, a breakout year that puts him in line to get paid this summer.
In a recent interview sitting down with Steelers.com’s Dale Lolley, Highsmith broke down his favorite pass rush move and how he maximizes its success.
“Spin move, that’s my favorite,” Highsmith told Lolley. “I like to use counter moves. I like to work a lot of speed. Getting guys to turn their hips. When I work that, It’s kind of a set-up move so that I feel when [the spin move is] going to work.”
We’ve noted the effectiveness of Highsmith’s spin move for years, dating all the way back to his rookie year in 2020. But he’s refined it over time and had it at its best this season. Check out this video that breaks it down.
As Highsmith noted, he uses his speed and outside rushes most of the time, forcing tackles to respect the edge threat and seal him upfield. In crucial and important moments, third down and at the end of games, Highsmith will employ his spin move. Using it only 2-3 times per game keeps tackles from sitting on or expecting it and maximizes its usefulness when he does. It’s smart to break it out on 3rd and 8 and 1st and 10.
“It’s definitely my go-to. I definitely got a lot of work to do to get better at that because it was stopped a few times this year. I want to make it unstoppable.”
By year’s end, tackles did begin catching on and adjusting. Starting with the Las Vegas Raiders’ game in Week 16 against LT Kolton Miller, Highsmith’s spin was less effective. We’ll do a video breakdown on that adjustment later in the off-season. He began to win in other ways, leaning on his speed and edge moves like his ghost rush to attack the quarterback, ending the season with 2.5 sacks in a win over the Cleveland Browns.
Every pass rusher worth their weight has a plan. It doesn’t require a bunch of moves and many of the great ones only had two. Dwight Freeney had his speed and spin. James Harrison had his bull and dip/rip. Reggie White’s career was defined by his hump move. Von Miller’s ghost rush has been popularized by Highsmith and many others.
With Highsmith and T.J. Watt, the Steelers have among the league’s best pass-rush duos. Even with Watt missing half the year, the two combined for 20 total sacks. If both can stay healthy next season, they could push for nearly 30 combined sacks. Couple that with an interior rush of Cam Heyward and who else the Steelers have next year, DeMarvin Leal is at least one name who will be around, and Pittsburgh could get back into the 50-sack category after seeing their five-year streak end in 2022.