A Look At Unblocked Pressure On Both Sides Of The Ball

By Matthew Marczi

It is certainly no secret that the Pittsburgh Steelers this season have been terrible at generating pressure on the quarterback, and especially so when they do not blitz. This has been the theme for the past few years now.

Part of the reason this might be is that, despite all of the creativity that Dick LeBeau puts into his pressure packages, the Steelers have been the worst in the entire league in getting to the quarterback unblocked.

According to Pro Football Focus, Pittsburgh ranks 32nd in the league in terms of getting unblocked pressure on the quarterback. In fact, they are one of only two teams in the league without at least one sack coming from an unblocked player, and they have only 11 pressures in total, including three hits.

Even more telling, when the Steelers are able to scheme through a free rusher, it only generates a quarterback knockdown on 27.3 percent of occasions, which ranks second-worst in the league, behind only the St. Louis Rams.

Not only are the Steelers struggling to give their pass rushers clean looks at the quarterback, they are also struggling to actually get to the quarterback when they do get clean looks, so it is no wonder the team has been fighting such an uphill battle in terms of attempting to generate pressure.

There is a flipside to this, however, on the offensive side of the ball.

Despite what it may seem intuitively, given some of the struggles that the offensive line had had this season picking up stunts, Pro Football Focus ranks the Steelers’ offense just 25th in terms of giving up the most unblocked pressure.

In total, the Steelers have given up four sacks, three hits, and 12 hurries on offense to free rushers. The Denver Broncos and Green Bay Packers give up the least unblocked pressure, with nine and 12 total pressures, respectively.

The Steelers also rank 22nd in terms of allowing that unblocked pressure to turn into a knockdown, at 36.8 percent. On the other hand, they are slightly below average in terms of allowing that pressure to result in a sack.

One would think that Ben Roetlisberger’s play has a great deal to do with both of those statistics. A good deal of the sacks that he takes can be avoided, even some of the sacks that come from unblocked rushers.

However, he also stays upright often when other quarterbacks would go to the ground. Take the touchdown pass to Emmanuel Sanders as an example. Given some of the mental miscues that the line has faced this year, however, I am just surprised that the total number of unblocked pressures allowed is not higher.

I am, I'm me. 40 something, retired and a life long Steelers fan.
  • Jason

    Yet I heard an NFL network analyst say that Lebeau will come up with a scheme to confuse Brady. LOL. Let’s be honest, we haven’t seen a new or creative blitz in a long time and Matthew’s article shows the results of a coach who refuses to or is unable to evolve. If he doesn’t press these NE receivers and allows Brady to play pitch and catch we will get blown out. I respect all Lebeau has accomplished and done for this team and the league but if we constantly bash Haley when does Lebeau start to deserve some heat?

  • HarryBackside

    Isn’t that the catch 22? How can you play press man when you don’t have a pass rush?

  • Jason

    That goes along with my point that Lebeau has got to come up with a way to get to the Qb or perhaps Woodley, Jones or Worilds can do what every OLB seems to do to us every week and just beat their man 1 on 1. My point is regardless of pressure if we play soft coverage against Brady you know the result. Your catch 22 question is a valid one and I’ve come to realize you will work to find fault with any of my post simply because I don’t share your blind love for Woodley but no worries we all just want a W on Sunday regardless of how unlikely it may be.

  • Shannon Stephenson

    At this moment LeBeau has 1 guy who can consistantly get to the QB. He is limited with his talent which has to make him play a safer defense and even that has not worked well because of once again, the talent we have. If you want to blitz Brady the result will be a blow out.

  • Jason

    I’m not sure who the 1 guy is, Woodley I’m assuming. This is not a sarcastic question. How would you go about defending him then? If we sit back and give his receivers a cushion he will take 5-7 yard passes all day and with our tackling they could turn into big plays. I would agree that with our atrocious pass rush blitzing all day may not be the best option either. And don’t forget they have a decent running game that may end up being the difference tomorrow anyway.

  • Jason

    Plus they rank 32nd at getting a free rusher to the Qb. That would be a scheme issue not a talent issue.

  • JAMESH

    Send all 11 on every play until they knock him out of the game…………….

  • Jason

    Hell, why not

  • HopalongCassidy

    Based upon the personnel that the Steelers have, I believe they should be playing a 4-3 defense. The front three in the 3-4 can’t put enough pressure on the QB. Times change, players change and coaches need to adapt rather than try to put square pegs in round holes.

  • Shannon Stephenson

    That is the million dollar question. We do have enough talent in the secondary to go man to man with the NE TE’s and WR’s but we need to get pressure with 4 guys on Brady. Not sure how we will do that and hopefully LeBeau can create a few different looks to help generate it with what he has which isnt much

  • Shannon Stephenson

    Being we have been playing behind a lot our chances at doing that will be less then other teams because they are running the ball more but it is still way under the line. This draft we need a pass rush specialist that is for sure.

  • Reg Sayhitodabadguy Hunt

    I just wanna say i was one of the biggest gay bashers on this blog and if he continues playing a well as he is i will gladly appologize

  • Reg Sayhitodabadguy Hunt

    I will judge his body of work after the season but so far so good

  • Jason

    agreed

  • Eric

    I am not particularly disputing your point regarding the personnel we have and moving to a 4-3, but I see that as short term thinking and unlikely to happen. Butler, the LB coach will probably be DC next year and changing the defensive scheme would not be his top priority.

  • charles

    That is what LeBeau did against Tebow and Denver on that final play.

  • charles

    Shannon what you are saying is EXACTLY right. Get pressure with four and then the package with Shamarko as an extra where Troy plays wildcat just off the line of scrimmage. That is the formula to win the game and beat Brady into submission. The key of course is pressure with four….

  • Chris Wilkes

    Time to move on from the 3-4 if we can’t draft the right DEs and OLBs. You can’t say much more when you’re ranked dead last at getting pressure.

  • charles

    UGH…Mitchell as DC?!?

  • charles

    It seems that quite often our blitzers TRY to engage someone and then the only technique they show is a Bull rush I don’t believe it is a personnel matter. It is a lack of talent at the coaching level. And in particular the defensive side. Promote Carnell Lake, clean the rest Arians style.

  • Moneypenny76

    I agree completely. This is the third season in a row with almost no sacks or turnovers. Bottom of the league!!! This is NOT the least talented defense in the league, so it is an excuse to blame it on the talent level. The issue is the scheme. LeBeau HAD a great scheme, but times changed and his defense didn’t. Every team is the league knows exactly what our defense will do…it is predictable. He is too stubborn, or just too old, to evolve. This team will go nowhere, this year or next, as long as LeBeau remains DC. You have to fit your defense to the players you actually have. LeBeau refuses to do that.

  • Chad H

    No please no. More teams are moving to a 3-4 because of the different packages and flexibility it gives a team. The major problem is you have to have pass rush on both sides. We only have it on one side.

  • Shannon Stephenson

    This may not be the least talented team but it lacks playmakers. We have a ton of role players. Harrison didn’t need a scheme to get to the QB he just did it. Woodley doesn’t need a scheme to the QB he just did it. There are time where scheme is important but we just do not have any talented rushers on this team regardless of scheme.

  • Moneypenny76

    Scheme is always important. Good Lord, that is why you have a Defensive Coordinator. Otherwise, you could just let everyone run around and freelance. We have playmakers. Polamalu is healthy and having a good season. Woodley is making plays. Jones and Thomas have the ability and talent to make plays, but it isn’t happening. Do you really believe Jacksonville has more playmakers than we do? Because they have more sacks. They have recovered more fumbles.

    Other teams get more out of their defense with less talent. You have to blame that on LeBeau. For several years we had the MOST talented defense in the league. I think they covered for some of the weaknesses on LeBeau’s scheme. Now we have, at worst, average talent and have one of the softest defenses. That is on LeBeau.

  • Shannon Stephenson

    Never said scheme wasn’t important. You named 2 playmakers that is it and offenses know that and can SCHEME against them. LeBeau does have ownership in how the defense produces but you made my point by stating only 2 playmakers.

  • Moneypenny76

    No, you proved my point by not explaining how Jacksonville manages to make more plays than Pittsburgh’s defense does. No defense in the league has 11 All-Pro caliber players on the field. Yet they all manage to be make more plays than Pittsburgh, LeBeau is ineffective – he has to go. He can’t rely on Polamalu forever – Troy is a once in a generation player. Most DCs in the league never get to play with guys like him.

  • Shannon Stephenson

    I didn’t even discuss Jacksonville so to say I made your point is silly. Jacksonville has 1 more sack then us so I am not sure your point but it must be very week.

  • Moneypenny76

    Jacksonville has less talent than Pittsburgh’s defense, thus, their DC has less to work with than LeBeau. Despite that, they have 5 fumbles recovered. Pittsburgh is LAST in the league with 1. We only have 1 more interception than them (we are almost LAST in the league). They have one more sack than us – oh yeah, we are next to LAST in that category as well. Most people would call them the worst team in the league. They have no playmakers at all. Yet, they get more impact plays from their defense than Pittsburgh. LeBeau can’t rely on Troy to make him look good forever. He refuses to evolve, or he is unable to evolve. Regardless, the end result is the same. LeBeau needs to go.

    By the way, we have had these problems for THREE YEARS. He has Harrison for most of that time, and Smith, etc. Yet, LeBeau still wasn’t able to get pressure on QB’s. He is the common denominator. Apologists like you aren’t helping matters. I love the guy, and respect and honor all he has done, but he just is not up to the job anymore.

  • Shannon Stephenson

    So you are saying that a way below the line defense in the Jaguars who just happen to have 5 fumble recoveries which is awful and 1 more sack is something we should use as an example. Not even sure why I am commenting on this.

  • Moneypenny76

    That’s the point- Jacksonville is way below the line, and they are STILL making more plays than the Pittsburgh defense under LeBeau. LeBeau is the problem.

  • Shannon Stephenson

    Well we just have to agree to disagree. I think it is mostly talent related you think it is coach related. Lets hope for a Steeler victory.

  • Moneypenny76

    Yes, we do both hope for a Steelers victory. We agree on that! :-)