Steelers Among Most Successful Generating Pressure In NFL

When it comes to getting sacks, the Pittsburgh Steelers have made great strides over the course of the past three seasons since Keith Butler replaced Dick LeBeau at defensive coordinator. Over the course of his last few seasons at the helm, the pass-rush had fallen off a cliff, to the point where there was one season in which they averaged fewer than two sacks per game.

The defense has during the last three years gotten incrementally better and better at getting after the quarterback, as well, and yes, those are two different things. It’s one thing to get sacks, which even in a great year is going to account for about one tenth of your total passing plays that you face. It’s another to consistently get after the passer.

While the sacks have largely been where they have been the past two seasons, the Steelers are also generating pressure more consistently this season, thanks to improvement both in their ability to generate pressure by rushing their four key players (boosted by better health, mind you) as well as more effective situational blitzing.

According to ESPN, in fact, they are actually one of the most successful defenses in the entire league in terms of generating pressure. They are just one of five teams to generate pressure on greater than 30 percent of their passing snaps, doing so 30.9 percent of the time.

The only four teams that have been able to generate pressure more consistently have been the Jaguars—of course, who lead the league in sacks—, Washington, Cincinnati, and the Rams. Yet even Jacksonville is only at 32.7 percent, still under one third of all passing snaps.

Conversely, you might be surprised to know that the Patriots are among the worst teams in the league with respect to generating pressure on the quarterback this season, and this is in spite of the fact that they are typically playing with a lead—often a sizable lead—which should lend itself to obvious pass-rushing opportunities.

From the same source, New England is averaging pressure on the quarterback on just 22.9 percent of their pass-rushing snaps, which stands as the third-worst percentage in the league, ahead of only the Buccaneers and the Bills. The Dolphins and Chiefs round out the bottom five.

The Steelers have already faced two of the best teams in terms of rushing the passer this season—actually three of the best, as the Browns also rank seventh. In truth, they struggled to contain the pass rush against the Jaguars, and that will be a problem should they face them again in the playoffs.

But getting back to the point of the article, it is a pleasant sight to see that the Steelers are finding more success generating pressure, both traditionally and with the blitz. With Cameron Heyward having seven sacks and the outside linebackers combining for 12, and then getting six from the likes of Vince Williams, and additional sacks from Joe Haden, Mike Hilton, and others, at least this aspect of the defense has seemingly finally gotten where it needs to be.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

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

  • Ace

    Sure would be nice to get some pressure from the OLB’s at some point. I think it might be time for this team to invest some first round picks at that position, or maybe some heady vet’s that have proven the ability to rush the passer.

  • ilamarca

    “I think it might be time for this team to invest some first round picks at that position”

    Not sure if sarcastic or not…

  • Jim Foles

    Has to be… Or he doesn’t no its a steelers thread.

  • pittfan

    Interesting stats considering the criticism of trying to generate pressure with 3-4 man fronts. Nice job big fellas!
    Tom Brady would generate more pressure.

  • Jason Dock Dudley

    OLBs are doing fine. It’s just the DEs,ILBs,and NT as well as DBs are pretty good at pressure as well. Gone are the days of the DEs just occupying blockers so the OLBs can clean up sacks.

  • heath miller

    ok so lets do the math .. how important is the pressure? between the top spot the jags and the 9th spot the jets … there is 3% difference .. so on 100 plays the top spot generates pressure 3 more times than the 9th spot.. so .. lets take it a step further.. lets just say the avg number of D snaps in a game is 60 … so basically the top team will generate 1 1/2 to 2 more pressures then the number 9 spot …. not a ton of difference ? or take to a 16 game season about 30 more pressures for the top team than the 9th team .. sure its something but not a lot ..IMHO HEEEEATH

  • heath miller

    lol thats what i thought ? is he kidding ? i dont think he is ..just not paying attention .. lol

  • Ace

    Of course the first round things a joke guys. HS. It’s obvious shade thrown at Bud and TJ, and then at Deebo and Moats. But the point remains, it would be really nice to get some pressure from the outside to make that qb climb into JH, ST and Hey pressure.

  • Ace

    I would like a little to a lot more out of their 2 starting first round pick OLB’s. I had hopes of 7-8 sacks and a few FF from Watt and 10+ sacks and a lot more pressures from Dupree. “Doing fine” isn’t good enough for me. I mean, the D as a whole is outstanding, minus the big plays they give up, I just want a little more from the OLB’s.

  • DirtDawg1964

    Who cares where it comes from? It’s happening. That’s all that matters.

    For the last few years we’ve all carped about the lack of pressure. Now it’s here and we are carping it’s still not good enough.

  • Matthew Marczi

    Most pressures result in negative plays for the offense, including turnovers. Getting an extra one or two of them per game can definitely make a big difference.

  • Matthew Marczi

    I think Watt is “doing fine” considering he is a rookie who is still learning the position (and who drops into coverage over 40 percent of the time, by the way). Dupree should be doing better than he is.

  • pittfan

    now do the math on the bottom teams vs the top teams and tell us what the difference is. Might want to overlay where the teams stand in terms of turn overs too. Lastly, are they generating that pressure with 3-4-or 5? guys?

  • Ace

    Maybe I have too high expectations for Watt. I’ll back off of him, lotta PD’s and the pick and some good pressures, considering he does drop a ton. He’s done pretty well. Just need Bud’s light to turn on at some point. Maybe they need to come up with new ways of using him.

  • heath miller

    oh no doubt to the bottom guys its huge … but they showed the list of the top 9 and not a lot of difference .. but 9 – 32 is huge.. i guess… if i was trying to make a point .. and not sure i was lol.. but if i was to make a point the math shows not a lot of difference where you are in the top 10… but hten you look at NW in the bottom 5 and they aee doing just fine without the pressure .. so not sure it shows anything … lol.. i just wasted 10 minutes doing the math and proved its meaningless… damn hhah.. HEEEEEATH

  • heath miller

    yeah i get it but then look at NE… bottom of the pile and 8-2 .. is that because they have the O to carry them? or because they started out so crappy on D?

  • pittfan

    LOL! Okay!!

  • Steve

    Good to hear the Pats aren’t doing very well, going after the QB. Will be meeting them in a few weeks and we want to bring the pressure right up the gut, so Brady can’t get them throws away.

  • pittfan

    I’m excited for this game. I’m not nearly as afraid of those guys as some of us are. If we can get pressure sending 3-4, 5 or more we can put him on his back

  • Steve

    Brady’s weakness is pressure up in front of him. If we can do that and stay in his face, will get him baling out of his rhythm.

  • Matthew Marczi

    It helps that they’ve had a really favorable schedule too.

  • Jason Dock Dudley

    I don’t think you factoring in the sacks from the other positions that used to not get sacks. You’re looking for Antiquated style 3-4 defense that just isn’t there anymore. That defense has been figured out by too many offenses and pressure has to come from other position than just outside linebackers. As a matter of fact the defense now is designed for other players to get sacks in not outside linebackers only.