Under pressure: Individual starts and play counts is irrelevant, it's about pressure generated per play

Joe Sargent

The Steelers selected two players with their first two picks of the 2014 NFL Draft who can help make those around them better. The main goal is simple: Generate pressure on opposing offenses.

Freddie Mercury's classic rock voice rings out:

Pressure!/pushing down on me
Pressing down on you/no man ask for
Under pressure that burns a building down
Splits a family in two
Puts people on streets

Then David Bowie chimes in:

It's the terror of knowing
What this world is about
Watching some good friends
Screaming, "Let me out!"
Tomorrow gets me higher
Pressure on people - people on streets

Under pressure. Two words that haven't described observations taken on opposing quarterbacks the Steelers have faced really over the last three years.

Ryan Shazier and Stephon Tuitt were taken with the Steelers' first two picks of the 2014 NFL Draft, hoping to, again, pressure opposing offenses. Much like Lawrence Timmons and LaMarr Woodley in 2007, the last time the Steelers drafted defense twice in rounds 1 and 2, adding Mercury and Bowie can create situations in which opposing offenses can fall under pressure.

As Dejan Kovacevic of the Tribune Review pointed out Sunday, "their true value will be best measured by the impact on the defense as a whole, in particular whether the front seven can resume — after a two-year hiatus — looking dangerous, unpredictable, maybe even a little menacing."

Free safety Mike Mitchell was brought in to help make their deep secondary get a bit better by having him back there. Steve McLendon and Cameron Heyward can exchange interior pass rushing responsibilities in an effort to utilize their specific strengths, again, in an effort to make the others around them better.

Pressure on people. People on offense.

Haggling now over playing time, or who will be in on what downs, is missing the point. The Steelers brought in athletes because athletes create pressure, regardless of age or experience. San Francisco's Aldon Smith had 16 sacks in 2011, his rookie season, not because he took so well to the playbook (he played less than half the team's defensive snaps that year) but because he had teammates who made him better, and he did the one thing he does well - rushing the passer - very well.

The Steelers set themselves up this offseason in a similar manner. Even if Shazier and Tuitt play 20 snaps a game, they can make those around them better. Tuitt is a faster and quicker athlete than Ziggy Hood was. If, when the Steelers show a two-down defensive linemen front like they did on many passing downs last season (Hood at the 5 technique and Heyward on the strong side 3 technique), Tuitt's ability to draw the center over on a stunt opens the beastly Heyward to rush based on the flow of the play.

Hood couldn't do that.

Same situation, Tuitt's quickness gets him inside the C-gap, stretching protection outside just as Shazier and Lawrence Timmons are running a fire blitz aimed to put the center in conflict. Pressure is almost assured in that situation. And as Pro Football Focus pointed out recently (something we all know, but it's interesting to see), most quarterbacks suck when they're under pressure.

The cumulative effect of that pressure comes when the individuals take care of the responsibilities on the play they're running. Pittsburgh's defense used to be something feared; something unanticipated. They lost that, but the addition of several athletically-inclined defenders gives them what they've needed; a shot of chaos.

It won't matter whether Shazier and Tuitt start. It matters what they do on a per-play basis, and how that fits in concert with the rest of the defense. It has the potential for great things, but they're just going to take it on play at a time.

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