Steelers Defensive Line Leading The Way To The Quarterback

By Matthew Marczi

With the outside linebacker position in a bit of a downslide over the past few seasons, Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau reportedly is allowing his defensive line to do more getting after the quarterback, rather than merely collapsing the pocket in pass rushing situations.

It appears that the onus will continue to be on the defensive line to bring the pressure, as the majority of the team’s rush in their opening week loss to the Tennessee Titans did indeed come from the defensive line.

According to Pro Football Focus, the Steelers as a team registered 13 total pressures, including one sack and three hits. Eight of those pressures came from the defensive line with nose tackle Steve McLendon and defensive end Brett Keisel each registering one hit and two hurries. Cameron Heyward also recorded two hurries in his 29 snaps.

The Steelers’ own internal records were even less charitable to the rest of the defense, and more in favor of the defensive line, as they credit Keisel with four pressures, Heyward with three, and Ziggy Hood with one. Yet they also counted 13 total pressures, so according to the Steelers, just two of the team’s pressures came from outside of the defensive line, with both being credited to LaMarr Woodley, who registered the team’s only sack.

The truth probably lies somewhere in between (Pro Football Focus also credits Lawrence Timmons, Larry Foote, and Ryan Clark with registering a pressure), but either way, it is clear that the defensive line was integral to the Steelers’ pass rush, perhaps more than it has been since the team switched to a 3-4 defense.

The more mobile McLendon is obviously a big part of that, whose three pressures on just 11 snaps on passing downs is an exceptional ratio. But Keisel led the team in total pressures just last year as well, and he got off to a strong start this year. Heyward is the better pass rusher of the two former first round picks, so it is not surprising that he replaced Hood on most nickel snaps during the game.

The down side of all this is that it means neither Jason Worilds nor Jarvis Jones in their combined 76 snaps succeeded in registering a single pressure on the quarterback throughout the game in their combined 15 rushes.

Neither linebacker was overly impressive as a pass rusher during the preseason either. That will have to change, and soon, if the Steelers want to have success. While Woodley looks to be in better condition than he has been since the first half of the 2011 season, he is most effective—as any pass rusher would be—when he has a counterpart on the opposite side that commands attention.

Will we see more out of the young linebackers tonight against the Cincinnati Bengals, and will the defensive line continue to bring the heat? They should have more opportunities to do so than they had against the Titans, when Jack Locker threw just 25 passes.

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.
  • dgh57

    McLendon needs more snaps this game than last week if you want pressure on the QB from the D-Line!

  • Ahmad

    I have a feeling that Jarvis Jones will get his first sack this week. It’s only a matter of time.

  • bonairsfavoriteson

    I don’t think getting anywhere near the QB after the pass has been thrown should count as pressure, all this stat does is tell ya what our guys are doing while their QB is throwing another pass for a first down or touchdown.

  • steeltown

    Pressure up front is the only hope we have tonight..

  • Berlusconi

    Agreed, the Bengals just have so many weapons on offense, given enough time Dalton will find someone wide open on every play. Without Cortez the secondary will need even more pressure form the guys up front. I hope for a strip-sack from Polamalu :)

  • Josh

    hut. hut. hik-Polamalu!

  • Jay Jaber

    if they just shut down the run and let andy dalton try to win the game im taking the steelers to win but if they cant stop the run its going to be a long day

  • Shannon Stephenson

    If we looked at the tape Dave provided with the sacks Jarvis had for Georgia, we saw that most of them were by his constant hustle or he was unblocked. Very few of his sacks were where he was engaged with a OL and he used a swim move or a spin to get to the QB. I just do not see him as this sack machine like most others do.

  • Bilgewater D

    Amazing that he was unblocked or hustled his way to 26 sacks in two years. Must not be talented at all.

  • Shannon Stephenson

    Georgia’s entire DL went pro along with a few other guys so he had a lot of help there. Yes he has talent but his numbers were inflated because what he had around him, how many sacks has he had in all his preseason stats and how many hurries did he have in this last game. I can help you if you like. ZERO. Look at the footage that Dave Bryan provided on him or else look at tape yourself you will see a guy who lack any real pass rush moves. I put my faith in the Steelers since thet can evaluate talent way better then I but until I see differently that is how I see it.

  • Matthew Marczi

    Generating pressure results in dump off passes, throwaways, poor throws, and mistakes that result in turnovers, even if they don’t bring the quarterback down.

  • Pete

    I don’t think you can use 1 game to begin evaluating the defense. Maybe at the bye you can look at the 1st four games and see how they did and maybe project to the future. Can’t rate Jones after one game where he shared snaps with Worilds. But yeah, I’m looking to see how Jones does tonight with the majority of snaps at ROLB.