Steelers Getting Catty With Their Pass Rush

The preseason has been fairly illuminating so far for the Pittsburgh Steelers of 2017, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. While there are still a lot of question to be answered—and injuries to be overcome—we have seen some interesting developments that could inform us about the Steelers’ intentions for how the defense will be run this season.

That is not a guarantee, of course. It is not infrequent that we see a team try something out in the preseason only to abandon it in time for the games that actually matter, likely because they were not happy with the results. But the Steelers’ dabbling into different things has largely worked so far.

The results from their spending more time in a 3-4 front, and in using a faux 4-3 over front with one outside linebacker dropping to the middle of the defense, have both been effective tools so far, which suggests that they are likely to carry on into the regular season.

Another facet of the preseason defense that has been both frequent and prolific is the use of the cat blitz, sending a cornerback typically off the edge of the defense to rush the passer. They have done this frequently with a number of different players and have found success doing it.

Obviously, the headliner here has so far been first-year cornerback Mike Hilton, who right now I would argue is in position to claim a spot on the 53-man roster. He has already recorded one sack and nearly had a safety as well. He recorded multiple other pressure for his efforts.

He has not been the only one to blitz, or to have success, however. Brandon Dixon, for example, toward the end of Sunday’s game, blitzed a couple of times. He did not record a sack, but one of his blitzes produced pressure on the quarterback that led to a sack for Farrington Huguenin, with Dixon almost but not quite doing enough on the play to earn a half-sack designation.

Artie Burns was also used on the blitz, as was William Gay. I recall Burns showing some physicality in working off the pass protection of the running back. I cannot remember off the top of my head if Ross Cockrell has been used on a passing blitz yet, but he did execute a run blitz in the first preseason game.

It is an interesting strategy for a team that has struggled to consistently generate pressure with a four-man rush. After all, the cornerbacks are typically the fastest players on the defense, and getting to the quarterback as quickly as possible, naturally, is valuable.

It doesn’t seem as though the Steelers have used the safeties to blitz during this preseason much at all, but we know that Sean Davis did it a fair amount during his rookie season. That will be something to watch for during Sunday’s game against the Colts.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

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

  • Uncle Rico.

    Burns pass rush was fantastic, and prevented a big play down the middle of the field. But it could’ve been a bigger play for the defense had he disguised his intentions better.

    That was suppose to be playaction with the RB faking a dive to the right. But instead, he saw Burns blitzing and unaccounted for and kick out left to pick him up. Really smart play by the RB.

    The really sad part is Ryan proceeded with the fake handoff to nobody and Matakevich bit hard on it anyways.

    Playaction is designed to put stress on one or two defenders. Usually the ILBs by putting them in a run/pass conflict. It presents an even bigger problem if that ILB has man coverage on a TE. Like Matakevich on this play. By the time he figured it out, the TE had blown by him and was running free down the middle of the field.

    Fortunately Burns still managed quick face pressure and flushed Ryan to his left, killing that big play opportunity for Atlanta.

    Still, had Burns just not made it as obvious, the RB probably carries out his play fake and Burns splats Ryan at the back of his drop. Putting the O in a deep hole or even forcing a turnover.

    Learning moment, hopefully for both.

  • Mark

    In order to win against better QBs we must be able to rush the passer with 4 people period from the front 6 (LB’s and DL). We cannot expose our secondary to elite WRs and QBs. All of this exotic blitzing gets us in serious trouble.

  • Michael Mosgrove

    we’ve not had a blitzing safety since will allen was let go. 🙁

  • Michael Mosgrove

    burns wasnt fantastic by any means on sunday. he got picked on left and right and got burned multiple times in the first quarter alone.

  • WreckIess

    Burns didn’t even let up a catch.

  • Uncle Rico.

    This thread was about unconventional blitzers and referenced the play in the first drive where Burns got pressure on a blitz. My post expounded on that singular play/blitz. No mention was made, good or bad, regarding Burns pass coverage on the day.

  • Michael Mosgrove

    funny thats not what i saw and i was on the 40 yard line.

  • WreckIess

    Ok? And I watched it on TV. With replays and DVR. But by all means, tell me who he let catches up to and when.

  • WreckIess

    I didn’t think you would have that answer, so I’ll answer it for you. None. 2 targets to Marvin Hall one at 10:11 in the first quarter and the second was at 14:56 in the second quarter. First target was off man coverage by Burns with Simms throwing a low out route to Marvin Hall that fell incomplete and the 2nd one came in the red zone. Press man coverage by Burns. Simms threw a fade to Hall, Burns squeezed him to the sideline and the pass fell incomplete.

    2 targets on the three possessions he played. 0 catches allowed and obviously no yards allowed. Artie Burns wasn’t “letting up catches left and right”.

  • Matthew Marczi

    I don’t know if it’s just me, but I don’t like what I’ve seen from Matakevich in the preseason games so far. Apparently he’s been all over the field in training camp, but he hasn’t looked up to the task on the field in my opinion.

  • Matthew Marczi

    The funny thing is 2015 was the only year Will Allen ever had a sack…and he had four. Davis looked like he has potential to be effective on the blitz. Mitchell has been okay even though he has only gotten one sack in three years here. He had sacks in Carolina though.

  • Steve Johnson

    I’ve been saying the same thing. Kind of remind you WR Justin Hunter, great camp guy, but when the lights go on, no where to be found.

  • Uncle Rico.

    It’s not just you.

  • Michael Mosgrove

    Will Allen never had high stats but was always solid.

  • Matthew Marczi

    Yeah, it’s just one of those funny statistical quirks. Guy plays in the league for over a decade and never records a sack, then boom, four in his last year.

  • Taylor Williams

    He’s too slow with no instincts. Ray Lewis and Brian urlacher were slow past their prime, but they made up for it with football smarts.
    Red has neither at the moment.

  • Matthew Marczi

    I really don’t get it. He looked like he had ‘instincts’ last year. Training camp reports, including from Alex, have been very positive. But it’s not showing this year. Maybe he’s in over his head running with the first-team defense?