Since Dick LeBeau returned in 2004 to be the Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator, the effectiveness of the defensive ends in his 3-4 defense have never measured by sacks. Instead, their ability to push the pocket was what mattered most as it clogged up the middle and forced quarterbacks trying to evacuate the pocket into the waiting arms of a penetrating outside linebacker. Now, according to Brett Keisel, LeBeau will allow his defensive ends to rush the quarterback to the outside more in 2013 in an effort to raise the sack and turnover totals that have been well below what is expected from a Steelers defense the last two seasons.
“There\’s been an emphasis more on [ends] getting on the edge rather than just pushing the pocket, getting on the edge and trying to make something happen,” Keisel told Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
In 2012, the Steelers outside linebackers registered only 15 of the teams 37 sacks. In 2011, they registered 21 of the 35 total sacks, so you can see the arrow is certainly pointing in the wrong direction. Sure, injuries played a role in the big decline last year, but LeBeau obviously feels that there was a bit more to it than just that.
While it is yet to be seen just how much the Steelers defensive ends will be allowed to attack the edge in 2013, if disguised correctly, it could provide more space in the gaps for an outside linebacker to penetrate inside via a looping stunt or an inside linebacker to blitz up the middle. The only downside to this, however, is that the wider spacing could provide easier escape routes for quarterbacks to escape through in addition to them having a more unobstructed view of the middle part of the field.
The Houston Texans defense does something similar to what the Steelers appear to be set to do more of in 2013 with the main difference of course being they have J.J. Watt. Not only can Watt rush the edge effectively, but he can also can get more than his share of sacks and pressures by merely rushing head-up out of either a three of five technique traditional bull rush. The Steelers don\’t have a player of his caliber on defense, but of course neither do the other 30 teams in the league.
Regardless of how the Steelers intend to rush the quarterback in 2013; the result is all that matters, as it must result in either quarterbacks getting sacked or them forcing a ball where it probably shouldn\’t go because of relentless pressure.
Another season similar to the previous two won\’t be enough. The Steelers defense might have been ranked No. 1 overall statistically the last two years, but they failed to set the offense up with good field position because of the lack of turnovers. In short, the defense could have been much, much better and this new wrinkle is a testament to LeBeau knowing those rankings are just that, rankings.