If you look down the list of National Football League “sacks” category you’ll have to do a lot of scrolling to find the Pittsburgh Steelers. There they are – way down at the bottom – with a grand total of one sack.
If that looks weird or strange or highly irregular, it is. The Pittsburgh Steelers have always been known as a team that gets after the quarterback and especially after last season. In 2015 the Steelers collected 48 sacks which ranked them third overall in the entire league. Therefore sitting in dead last just isn’t something we are used to seeing.
The are reasons for this and they are much more than just “the opponent had a good left tackle.”
The most noticeable reason for the Steelers’ sack decline starts with what Defensive Coordinator Keith Butler is doing with his defense. The amount of times Butler has brought five or more rushers is about equal to the number of fingers on your hand. That’s very “un-Steelers’ like” isn’t it? When you aren’t bringing extra pass rushers then you significantly reduce your chances of getting to the quarterback now aren’t you?
The Steelers have also played two teams with pretty solid offensive line units. The Bengals did get victimized in their opener by the New York Jets’ defense to the tune of seven sacks but I think you’ll see the Jets do something like that most weeks. Both the Redskins and Bengals do in fact have good left tackles but pressure and sacks can come from places other than over that position.
Butler and Head Coach Mike Tomlin have clearly made the decision for the fist two weeks anyway to allow the secondary and linebackers to cover more than we’ve seen in previous years. The goal of course is to keep receivers in front of them and tackle them immediately following a catch. It also helps prevent too many one-on-one situations which can lead to big plays. This doesn’t mean they don’t want pressure or sacks, but when you’ve shut down the run the way the Steelers have in the first two weeks it means more second and third and long situations.
Therefore, why gamble if you don’t have to?
Don’t forget also that teams are focusing on the inside where Stephon Tuitt and Cam Heyward are. They are daring, if not forcing the Steelers’ outside linebackers to make plays and to this point they haven’t. That leaves Heyward and Tuitt to deal with more double-teams.
I don’t see the Steelers getting to 48 sacks again this year and in our season predictions’ article I surmised they wouldn’t get to that this year regardless of the poor start. That doesn’t mean they won’t get sacks because those will come as Butler and his staff find their rotations that fit each situation best.
But right now the lack of sacks is not because of just one thing; it’s multiple issues and not all of them are necessarily bad.