PITTSBURGH — Amongst his many sayings, Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin has one which he repeats usually when speaking about issues nonetheless in progress: the play of younger receivers, his quarterback’s return from harm, a rookie’s growth.
“This group remains to be writing its story,” he’ll say.
The story of the Steelers’ sack streak began 68 video games in the past, with James Harrison’s 12-yard drop of then-Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco on Nov. 6, 2016. Getting into Monday’s recreation (5 p.m., FOX) towards the Washington Football Team, that ongoing story has an opportunity to match a historic mark, particularly towards a crew that has allowed 35 sacks this season.
From 1999 to 2003, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers recorded at the least one sack in 69 consecutive video games. With a sack in each recreation — and 233 sacks complete — since Harrison’s towards the Ravens, the Steelers enter Monday one away from matching Tampa Bay’s streak.
“We have by no means actually talked in-depth about any of that stuff,” mentioned Steelers linebacker T.J. Watt, who has a team-high 45.5 sacks in the course of the streak. “We’re simply making an attempt to be the very best crew we may probably be. All that issues is getting the win.”
The Steelers have lengthy been a dominant defensive crew with a formidable entrance. Since 2014, two years earlier than the sack streak started, the Steelers have recorded 322 sacks, essentially the most amongst NFL groups. With former defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau calling the photographs, the Steelers bought their strain with a blitz-heavy protection. Though they’ve the second-highest blitz charge within the league, at 41.6%, defensive coordinator Keith Butler insists that they are producing sacks and strain whereas blitzing lower than they did beneath LeBeau.
“We do rush 4, however sometimes we are going to nonetheless blitz,” Butler mentioned. “We’re not the Blitzburgh that we was once, however we definitely usually are not removed from it …
“We do sprinkle in some blitzes with five-man, and at the beginning of the 12 months, we used some six-man stuff across the purpose line. We are going to do no matter we’ve got to do to ensure we keep the strain on the quarterback, be sure the ball comes out on time if we will, or if it would not come out on time, we’ve got to hit him. We’ve got to guarantee that he is aware of we’re there.”
Tomlin was on the Buccaneers’ employees for the ultimate three years of their streak, and although the schemes are totally different, he sees similarities between his group and the one which set the bar.
“The factor I take into consideration once I take into consideration the 2 teams are the standard particular person rushers who rush effectively collectively collectively,” Tomlin mentioned. “We had actually good particular person rushers in Tampa. Guys like Warren Sapp and Simeon Rice, however it was greater than that. They rushed collectively effectively collectively, very like the group we’ve got right here.
“We’ve got guys that you could characterize as actually good particular person rushers, however they rush very effectively collectively. The understanding of the bigger physique and the way they match into it makes it occur for them. That is what actually supplies the consistency that you simply guys point out and chronicle.”
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Watt, who was in faculty at Wisconsin when the Steelers’ streak started, headlines the group of particular person rushers, however the Steelers’ premium depth has been key in preserving it going. Guys comparable to Cam Heyward, Stephon Tuitt and Bud Dupree have additionally made main contributions. Heyward and Tuitt have 32 and 23 sacks, respectively, for the reason that streak started, and Dupree, now out for the season due to a torn ACL sustained in Wednesday’s recreation, has 35.5 in that point.
“They supply a wave that we trip,” Tomlin mentioned of his top-notch pass-rushers. “They’re good individually, they’re good collectively, and they’re constant by way of their performances.
“I have been part of a number of teams like that. I used to be lucky sufficient to be part of that Tampa group that this group usually will get in comparison with, and that’s one thing that they each have in frequent. They’ve nice particular person rushers who present up week in and week out. I am lucky to have that perspective.”
The Steelers are additionally bolstered by defensive position coach Karl Dunbar, whom Butler credit for additional creating the cross rush. Now in his third 12 months with the Steelers, Dunbar has coached stout defensive strains comparable to these of the New York Jets and Minnesota Vikings, together with the 2016 and 2017 teams at Alabama. Throughout Dunbar’s six years with the Vikings from 2006 to ’11, Minnesota’s protection allowed the fewest speeding yards within the NFL (84.8 yards per recreation) and recorded the sixth-most sacks (242.0).
“Karl Dunbar does an important job with our entrance 4 by way of speeding the passer,” Butler mentioned. “In case you take a look at his résumé, then you definitely’ll discover wherever he has been, the cross rush has been fairly good. We’re glad to have him.”
The Steelers should proceed the streak with out one in all their major contributors of the previous three seasons. Dupree’s season-ending ACL tear opens a gap on the appropriate aspect of the protection and a giant alternative for rookie Alex Highsmith, who has one sack of his personal.
“To be able to proceed getting strain on the quarterback, we’d like for Alex Highsmith to step up, and we’d like for Ola [Adeniyi] to step up and Jayrone [Elliott] — all three of them,” Butler mentioned. “We’d like for them to remain up so we do not have a drop-off even when T.J. [Watt] comes out. …
“The most important factor for us is to get within the playoffs, after which the subsequent largest factor is to win the Tremendous Bowl, particularly for my third son. I’ve bought three sons, and I’ve two Tremendous Bowl rings. That is all I’ve bought, so we’ve got to get yet one more of them for certain. I feel Alex is able to doing what we ask him to do.”