Steelers Film Room: Defense pressured with its performance

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

The Steelers are now 0-2 and have failed to make splash plays on the defense. Against the Bengals Pittsburgh failed to register a single sack the entire game. Is this the new norm for the Steelers?

A sack is one of the most important plays a defense can make.

Sacking the quarterback not only produces negative yards but it also fires up the defense while demoralizing the offense. More importantly when a team is sacking the quarterback consistently they will force more turnovers whether it is by interceptions or forced fumbles.

The Steelers through the first two games of the season haven't been able to generate these sacks. In 70 drop backs by opposing quarterbacks they have just one sack. This isn't to say the Steelers do not have a pass rush. In the 70 drop backs of opposing QBs they have face, the defense has hit the opposing QBs a total of eight times and have hurried the opposing QBs 24 times for a total of 32 pressures in 70 drop backs or 45.7 percent of the drop backs.

Against the Bengals they did not register a single sack in 48 drop backs of Andy Dalton but they were close. The Bengals QB wasn't comfortable in the pocket the entire night.

On this first play the Steelers are in their nickel package. Defensive ends Brett Keisel and Cameron Heyward are the two down linemen while Jarvis Jones and LaMarr Woodley are the two outside linebackers. The Bengals are in a shotgun formation with a bunch to the right side. As the play begins Woodley accelerates off the line as if he is going to use a speed move to the outside. The right tackle, Andre Smith, sets up wide.

At this point Woodley plants his left leg, engages the tackle with a jab of his right arm and uses his left arm to rip through on the inside. Woodley gets past the tackle whose left arm is across the body on Woodley's right shoulder. As Woodley pass him he moves his arm and lets go about a third of the second later. This is a slight hold that could be called either way depending on the official.

Dalton is able to back up and move to the right. As he does this, Jarvis Jones who was double teamed on this play, stops his outside pursuit and head back inside to the scrambling Dalton. Jones hits Dalton just after he throws it and was less than a half of a step away from getting the sack.

On this next play Pittsburgh executes a stunt to get to Dalton using only four pass rushers.

It is a third and eight situation for the Bengals and the Steelers are showing one of their exotic looks. Cameron Heyward is the only defensive linemen with his hand down. Keisel is on his right playing in a two point stance. On the right of Keisel Timmons and Worilds show a blitz from the defensive right side. Woodley is the only player showing a blitz on the left side. At the snap Heyward who is head up the guard crashes outside engaging the tackle and drawing the attention of the RG. On the other side Keisel sell his rush but is really watching the RB. when the RB leaves out of the backfield Keisel is on him preventing the check-down. Woodley loops around behind Heyward in a well set up stunt. The RG recognizes the stunt too late and Keisel's acting has drawn the centers full attention. Woodley has his shot at the QB. Dalton steps to his right and the RG gets one hand onto Woodley to push him left. This causes Woodley's momentum to prevent him from taking Dalton down. He gets his left arm around the QB (admittedly contacting the helmet) but Dalton is able to duck and his hand slides off. The QB is force to scramble for three yards. This is a win for the defense on third and eight.

The final play is the worst missed opportunity of the night as the Steelers get to Dalton with four rushers.

The Bengals are in a shotgun formation with 3 WRs, 1 TE on the offensive right and a RB in the back field. Presnap the Steelers are showing no down linemen as this is an obvious passing situation in the last minute of the second quarter. Pittsburgh shows a six man blitz with Keisel and Heyward in the middle, Woodley and Jones on the outside and Timmons showing blitz up the middle.

At the snap Jones fakes his rush with two steps then bails to a short zone finally following the RB out of the backfield. Woodley chips and engages with the tight end first before starting his pass rush.

The real beauty of this play is the stunt run by Heyward and Keisel.

Heyward crashes down in to the center while Keisel loops behind him. The RG picks up Keisel nicely but Heyward punishes the center who is already moving backward. He engages him, gets his hands on the breast plate of the centers shoulder pads and drives him back and to his right. Once he see his lane to Dalton he is able to disengage easily because the center has no contact on Heyward's body. He disengages and goes after Dalton.

Heyward hits the QB as he is bringing his arm back. From the replay, it can be seen that Heyward's helmet actually knocks the ball out of Dalton's hand as he begins to bring it forward. What is more disturbing is you can see Heyward has his eyes closed for the hit.

While this is a good play by Heyward is could have easily been a sack fumble. Heyward needs to keep his eyes open and be aware of where the QB's throwing arm is to swat at the ball. This was one of Heyward's best plays of the night but at the same time one of his dumbest mistakes.

The Steelers were the closest to breaking through in the "sack barrier" against the Bengals. They had 20 pressures on 48 drop backs hitting him five times. The little details kept them from capitalizing. Dalton was not comfortable on his drop back the entire night and considering the fact that the Pittsburgh sent four or fewer to rush the pass on 33 of the 48 drop backs the defense did a good job. The Bengals prevented the Steelers from blitzing by spreading their formation and running the ball effectively.

Pittsburgh will need to be able to get consistent pressure with four men if they want to get back to being dominant on defense. The one of the players who is servely hurting this pass rush is Jason Worilds. He has rush the passer 20 times this season and has yet to produce a single pressure.

He saw his snaps almost cut in half against the Bengals. That is likely due to the increase production of Jarvis Jones. Jones rushed the passer 20 times against the Bengals and picked up two hurries and one hit on the QB working against Whitworth one of the better left tackles in the game.

The Steelers' pass rush will get better with Jones getting increased playing time and more importantly with a healthy Cortez Allen. When Allen is healthy he is able to defend the tight end allowing both Woodley and Jones to rush the pass. The Steelers will start getting sacks, they aren't far off at the moment. Woodley will be going against a rookie right tackle, Jordan Mills vs. Chicago. That might just be the favorable match up the defense is looking for.

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