Steelers Film Room: Near Sacks Result in Splash Plays

Splash plays and a lack of sacks. Two components that have made this version of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense difficult to watch and certainly uncharacteristic of seasons past.

Those two areas can be separated by inches and fractions of a second. And after combing through some of the recent big plays allowed, the difference between a big play and a sack have been slight. This doesn’t excuse blown coverages or missed tackles. We’re not going to go in-depth on every single play, either. But it’s interesting how close – yet so far – the Steelers pass rush has been.

We’ll start in Week Eight against the Indianapolis Colts. Andrew Luck’s 28 yard touchdown to T.Y. Hilton. Jason Worilds is chipped off the snap and knocked down but left alone because of that. He’s a half second late to Luck before the quarterback fires into the end zone.


Fast forward to Week 11 versus the Tennessee Titans. The Steelers gave up an 80 yard touchdown to Nate Washington right before the half. Arthur Moats is a tick late getting to Zach Mettenberger. He hits him right after the release.


The following game after the bye against the New Orleans Saints. Kenny Stills 69 yard touchdown grab. Jason Worilds nearly reaches the throwing arm of Drew Brees but is a moment late. A split second is the difference between a touchdown and a potential forced fumble.


Both of the explosive plays allowed against the Cincinnati Bengals were near sacks. Steve McLendon sheds the center but can’t quite get to Andy Dalton in time, allowing him to complete this 56 yard pass to A.J. Green.


Lawrence Timmons nearly gets the quarterback on Green’s 81 yard catch and score.


Add it all up and it comes to five completions for 314 yards and four touchdowns. An extra half second of time may have wiped out each big play.

Of course, it creates the question of the chicken or the egg. If the secondary holds up that much longer, it’ll create the sack. But for a defense that is always started with its pass rush, and one that has woefully underwhelmed, the blame begins there.

But the separation between an effective and ineffective pass rush is minute. The difference between sack and splash a matter of milliseconds. And the Steelers’ defense has been on the wrong side of it for the last several weeks.

About the Author

Alex Kozora

Full-time blogger from mom’s basement. Marrying tape and statistics. Chidi Iwuoma is my favorite Steeler of all-time.

  • Julius Axel

    Ryan barely escaped collapsing pocket on long run on 3rd down on their TD drive. The great Steeler D’s of past made those sacks.

  • steeltown

    It definitely all starts upfront, but boy our secondary has been atrocious outside of William Gay

  • falconsaftey43

    It is definitely a combination of a poor secondary and poor pass rush, but I personally put more of the blame on the safety play. Our CBs have never been great, and Gay has certainly had a very good year. I believe the biggest problem is our safeties no longer pose a risk for creating a turnover. The QB has no fear of just throwing it up against these guys because the worst that will happen is an incompletion. Troy used to make QBs hesitate enough for the pass rush to get there.

  • smheart78

    It’s true, these were all close plays that could have been great defensive plays if not for a fraction of a second longer. However, a quarterback is paid to know how much time he has to make a throw (feel the presence), and often bides his time until the last second. I would say the quarterbacks awareness of this is what makes it so close.

  • Steel PAul

    This is why I haven’t been getting too uptight lately regarding the playoffs.

    Defense wins championships and this year’s team does not have a defense that can make splash plays, cause turnovers and win tough games.

    That’s not a shot at our beloved Steelers. We all know this to be true.

    So, sit back.. Enjoy as much as you can, but don’t pin your hopes too high this year. If they can make it in, that in itself is an accomplishment this season. One and done seems likely, however.

  • Cletus

    Every other play Ben makes is almost a sack, so what’s your point?

  • Rick M

    Nifty analysis, showing how easily the big plays could have been sacks, fumbles or poorly thrown balls. The balls really are barely out of the QB’s hands before contact. Hopefully that split or half-second will go our way on Sunday.

  • cencalsteeler

    It’s a game of inches!

  • Zurich1012

    Well this was an interesting article. But I also think besides the lack of talent as far as pass rushing ability, they are also a victim of there long history of success.

    Opposing Teams QB s dont take 5 to 7 step drops or even hold on to the ball anymore because they know that even though the Steelers pass rush isn’t what it used to be 5 years ago they are still dangerous because of Dick Lebeau. They get rid or the ball even if it means throwing it out of bounds.

    That being said, I am glad they have a shot at the playoffs because anything can happen but on the flip side this defense is lacking in talent and needs a serious infusion of new people. Next year Troy, Ike, Worlds, Thomas, Maybe Gay, Kiesal, Harrison will all be gone.

    THe D line needs more depth, the linebackers need pass rushers, and the secondary needs everything in droves. So the better the record and the further they go into the playoffs means that drafting solid replacements for the defense is going to be more difficult. This team is not going to win a SB this year just on the idea that is tried and true, that Defense wins championships and no matter how optimistic we are about the offense, our defense is not going to hold up well enough against a Pats or Broncos team. I am not a pessimist. The truth is in the history of all teams in the Superbowls.

    If I am wrong and if anyone can present a past case whereby a team won a Suberbowl with a mediocre defense I am all ears because I would love to be able to think we have a legitimate shot at number 7.

  • sean mcmartin

    Agreed .
    Sit back and enjoy the last of the Great ones.
    This defense is not good enough to win a superbowl.
    Most of the fans realize it.
    This is the last season of Deebo and Troy. Two great Steelers..

  • wafflehouse

    06 colts defense wasn’t very good. Stepped up in playoffs

  • Jeff Burton

    We don’t having any pass rushers. Jones so far has shown nothing. Jason Worilds has turned out to be a 2013 four game wonder. Harrison still has it when he’s in but he’s just counting the days to retirement. I think we need to shift Ryan Shazier to the weakside OLB where his speed and intelligence can be a factor. And I hate to say it but we probably need to draft an LB in the one of the first 3 Rds of the Draft.

  • Jake Marion

    Perhaps a few more snaps with Tuitt, McLendon, McCullers and less of Cam Thomas will make a difference in these plays.