While the Steelers defense remains among the top in the league, they no longer can hold claim to leading in the turnovers category.
While the Pittsburgh Steelers defense remains among the top in the league, they no longer can hold claim to leading in the turnovers category. The Miami Dolphins now lead the league in turnovers with 26 to Pittsburgh’s 25.
In a matchup that was ripe for creating turnovers — defending Cincinnati Bengals third-string quarterback Ryan Finley — Pittsburgh did not create a one.
It was just the third game of the season in which the defense came away with nothing — last was Week 13 versus the Washington Football Team and the Tennessee Titans before that.
“The turnovers come when you’re ball searching,” Butler explained. “Mike [Tomlin] talks about this all the time with the defense. He’s talking about getting the ball out, punching the ball out, causing a fumble, getting interceptions. All that stuff matters — big time.”
Pittsburgh’s Week 16 opponent, the Indianapolis Colts — has been doing a great job securing the football. They’ve committed just nine turnovers this season and haven’t allowed one since Week 12. The good news is they faced the Houston Texans twice and the Las Vegas Raiders once. The Steelers defense is more dominant than both those teams combined and will look to turn it around at Heinz Field on Sunday.
Butler pointed to another area that matters big time. Holding offenses to field goals. “We can’t let them score seven points. The challenge for us is keeping them out of the endzone as much as we possibly can.”
With 15 interceptions and six fumbles, the defense has 21 takeaways through 10 games. The Miami Dolphins and Tampa Bay Buccaneers are behind them with 19 each.
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin recently addressed his team’s success with takeaways. “We not only talk about it, but we drill it,” he said in a press conference. “We are just going to keep working in that regard. We recognize that the turnover element of play is significant and something that we have to continually work at.”
Tomlin spoke highly of the job cornerback Cam Sutton did in place of Mike Hilton. In Hilton’s absence, Sutton forced a fumble in the Baltimore Ravens, Dallas Cowboys and Cincinnati Bengals matchups.
“I can’t say enough about the effort of the guys,” said Tomlin. “Cam Sutton has forced a fumble in the last three football games, and that is the guy that doesn’t play every snap of defense. He’s more of a situational defender. I can’t say enough about his awareness and his willingness to put that on tape and how it builds and encourages others to do similar things.”
When it comes to how Ben Roethlisberger and the offense operates knowing their defense can get the ball back at any moment, Tomlin said it’s more than talking the talk. “It goes beyond conversations. It’s about action, and we start every Wednesday workday with ball handling and ball security drills for those that throw it, catch it and run it.”
“It’s just a part of our culture,” he said. “Just like pursuing and working to take care of the ball on the other side. We believe that those two things work hand-in-hand, and discussions are just the very beginnings of it. We have to make sure our actions match our words, and, as a staff, we are working extremely hard to do so from a drill standpoint in our week’s prep.”
The Steelers have had plenty of prep time for their upcoming opponent, the Baltimore Ravens. The defense will look to continue forcing turnovers Tuesday night.
Hilton has been impressing with his versatility this season, and his absence is noticed.
Mike Hilton has been sorely missed among the Steelers defense since injuring his shoulder in Week 5 versus the Philadelphia Eagles.
Hilton isn’t shy about showing off his versatility and is significantly better in pass rush than coverage or versus the run.
Pro Football Focus grades him 62.6 in run defense, 61.4 in coverage and 88.0 pass rush. As Steelers Wire noted a few days ago, Hilton’s absence is a big reason why Pittsburgh has played more zone in recent weeks than they’ve been known for this season.
Per PFF, Hilton is currently ranked second in total pressures among cornerbacks. I’m actually not seeing a corner who has more pressures than Hilton, who has eight (three sacks, two hits, three hurries). Arizona’s Byron Murphy is next with six, followed by Tampa Bay’s Sean Murphy-Bunting and the Ravens’ Marlon Humphrey tied with five.
Hopefully, we’ll get some good news on the Hilton front this week, but I’d much rather he sit versus the Jacksonville Jaguars. Pittsburgh will need him at 100 percent for the final six games, which will be a rough stretch.
While Williamson has both metrics against the pass and the run, his strength certainly lies with the run. Per Pro Football Focus, for his career, the linebacker grades at 70.0 run, 51.0 pass rush, 30.5 coverage.
Between weeks 1 and 9, the defense had allowed just 3.4 yards per attempt inside the tackles (6th), according to Next Gen Stats. They need to continue that high level of production of between-the-tackles runners, which is where Williamson can be best used as reinforcement.
Here’s what Williamson’s inside run defense snaps look like:
Total tackles: 299
Only missed one tackle this season; 21 for career
Though nothing has been reported on Williamson playing this week, I would imagine he will play. He was activated Week 9 versus the Cowboys but never set foot on the playing field. Sure, he’s still getting antiquated with Pittsburgh’s playbook. Nevertheless, it wouldn’t make much sense to trade for a player and not get him involved as quickly as possible — especially in this of a critical role.
A 10th-overall selection in the 2010 NFL Draft, Alualu never thrived with the Jacksonville Jaguars. In Pittsburgh, he’s finally playing like the first-round talent he was tabbed as.
As great teammates do, Alualu is crediting his fellow linemen for new-found success.
“Every week we look to do better and get better. I think I am fitting in well,” Alualu said in a recent press conference. “Just having the guys we have on our defense makes it a lot better for me. Whether it’s T.J. [Watt] or Bud [Dupree] coming off the edge, or Cam [Heyward] or [Stephon] Tuitt pushing up the middle, I think teams have to game plan around those guys and it makes it that much easier for me to go out and do my job. That is my focus and what I try to get done.”
The question remains, is Alualu part of Pittsburgh’s plans beyond 2020? The lineman is one of 18 Steelers who will become free agents in March. According to OvertheCap.com, his current salary cap charge is $3.625 million.
Pittsburgh has faced plenty of dual-threat quarterbacks in recent history.
Offensively, the Houston Texans have one household name: Deshaun Watson. His dual-threat playmaking ability easily makes him one of the more difficult players to defend in the league. As with stopping Saquon Barkley in Week 1, the Steelers will need to be hyperfocused on containing Watson.
Though the Texans are winless, Watson could pose a problem to the blitz-happy Pittsburgh defense. The offensive line is highly suspect (most quarterback pressures allowed with 57), so Deshaun will want to high-tail it out of there as quickly and often as possible to avoid the blitz.
Pittsburgh will want to show more five-man rushes or hold back a linebacker and spy Watson to matchup one-on-one if he escapes the pocket.
In early goings, Watson has only managed 44 yards on the ground and one score, but in his four-year career, he’s contributed 1,277 and 15 touchdowns with his feet.
The only mobile quarterback the Steelers have been pitted against this season is the New York Giants’ Daniel Jones. He rushed for 22 yards on four attempts. His rookie season rushing total was 279 and three scores.
Here are some of the best dual-threat quarterbacks the Steelers have faced in recent history and what the outcome was:
When Jackson first came into the league, he was a better runner than passer. Honing his skills as in the air game, he’s becoming one of the best throwers and has quickly developed into the true dual-threat quarterback. Hands down, Jackson remains the best open-field runner in the game.
The Steelers only had to contend with him for one game in 2019, as the Ravens sat their starters in preparation for the playoffs in their final tilt of the season. Jackson put up 70 rushing yards on Pittsburgh in Week 5, which is mild compared to the five 100+ yard games he compiled his rookie year. Pittsburgh pressured him 19 times with five sacks, four hits and 10 hurries.
And, oh yeah, Lamar also snagged seven touchdowns on the ground in ’19 (none versus the Steelers).
Pro Football Focus slapped the Steelers with their lowest pass-rush grades of ’19 versus Lamar and this guy…
Murray totaled for 544 yards and four scores on the ground in 2019. 446 of those yards were in the weeks leading up to the late-season matchup versus Pittsburgh. Cause for concern, right? The Steelers defense made it their focus and limited Murray to the second-least rush yards of his season with a total of two.
On Murray, 19 total pressures were generated. He was sacked four times, hit twice and hurried 13 times.
The second-year QB is the opposite of Jackson in that he’s been running the ball far more often through two weeks than he averaged in ’19. And it shows. Murray has 21 runs for 158 yards and three touchdowns so far. Broken down, that’s 10.5 per game, 7.5 yards per attempt, 79 yards per game, and 1.5 touchdowns per game.
Thankfully the Steelers don’t have to deal with that in the 2020 regular season.
Allen was another mobile QB the Steelers faced in Week 14. Though he did run one in for a score, they contained him to 28 yards. Prior to the Pittsburgh contest, Allen had posted 439 yards on the ground and eight touchdowns.
The Steelers generated 15 total pressures on Allen with two sacks, three hits and 10 hurries.
Josh has recorded 76 rushing yards and a touchdown in two weeks. The Steelers have to deal with the Bills and Allen in Week 14.
The Steelers faced Wilson and the Seahawks the dreaded Week 2 (a.k.a. Ben elbow game). The defense was all over Russell. 19 total pressures were generated — five times sacked, three times hit and11 times hurried. He averaged 21 yards on the ground in ’19 (342 total), and Pittsburgh’s defense allowed 22. Wilson’s rush yards have declined from what they once where, perhaps in an effort to stave off injury.
Prescott didn’t even threaten to run against the Steelers in 2016; in fact, it was the only matchup in which the rookie didn’t post any rushing yards.
For his career, Dak has rushed for 1,269 yards and an astounding 24 touchdowns.
We’ll see how things play out with Prescott on Nov. 8 after the Week 8 bye.
Stats courtesy of Pro Football Focus and Pro Football Reference
Through two weeks, Pittsburgh has a mammoth 77 total pressures generated — against the New York Giants and the Denver Broncos, who are in the top five of pressured allowed with 56 and 46, respectively.
It just so happens that the Steelers Week 3 opponent is the Houston Texans, who have allowed the most pressures (57) through Week 2.
And who leads the team in pressures with 14 each, but T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree, closely followed by Stephon Tuitt and Cam Heyward with 13.
As for the other teams currently on the list, Pittsburgh won’t face Cincinatti until the second half of the season. Hopefully, there will be a future contest between the Steelers and the Kansas City Chiefs, who have allowed Pat Mahomes to be pressured 42 times.