The Pittsburgh Steelers didn’t record a single sack today in their 17-14 loss against the New England Patriots. While not having T.J. Watt certainly played a part, defensive lineman Cam Heyward blamed the team’s run defense.
“Because we didn’t stop the run enough. We didn’t put them in enough situations where they had to throw the ball. Attention to detail things. A couple times [Mac] Jones got out, but it came down to if we were ever going to get to the passer, get after their O-line, we had to stop the run first,” Heyward said, via official transcript provided by the team.
The Patriots were able to consistently pick up yards on the ground, as their running backs combined to finish with 24 carries for 118 yards and a touchdown. Despite Mac Jones looking shaky at times, the Patriots were still able to move the ball when they had to, particularly during their last drive of the game when they used eight designed runs to drain the clock and secure the win.
The fact that New England didn’t have to throw a lot, especially on early downs, definitely did attribute to the lack of pass rush. Still, even when the Patriots did drop back, the pass rush wasn’t always there and Jones was able to find open receivers or use his legs (he had a key first-down scramble late in the game). With extra attention going to Heyward, someone else has to step up next to him and Alex Highsmith to consistently rush the passer. Malik Reed had a couple of good reps, but there were also more than a few plays where he got handled pretty easily by the Patriots’ offensive line.
If the Steelers are going to be in contention this year, they need to be able to rush the passer. It’s always been one of their calling cards, and if they aren’t able to put consistent pressure on the opposing quarterback, they’re going to give up chunk yardage. Today, Jones was able to find Kendrick Bourne and Jakobi Meyers for consistent gains of 10+ yards. While the Steelers’ secondary is solid, they won’t be able to shut down receivers if quarterbacks have a lot of time to throw.
In a few weeks when Pittsburgh gets to the part of their schedule when they’re facing the Bills, Buccaneers and Dolphins in three straight weeks, they’re going to need to get pressure on the quarterback. Josh Allen, Tom Brady and Tua Tagovailoa (who threw for six touchdowns against the Ravens today) are going to be able to expose Pittsburgh’s secondary if they aren’t under pressure. It’s something the Steelers are going to have to figure out sooner rather than later.