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.