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Steelers drop to lowest sack total in 23 years

The Steelers only managed 34 sacks in 2013, the lowest output they've had in 23 seasons. What gives?

Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

The sacks just ain't comin'.

One of the main issues the Pittsburgh Steelers faced heading into the 2013 season was the issue of pressure on opposing quarterbacks. After a combined 72 sacks from 2011 to 2012 (35 in '11 and 37 in '12), the Steelers ranked in the middle of the NFL in terms of production.

The 34 they notched as a defense in 2013 is the lowest total the team has had in 23 years, and that was among the bottom quarter of the league.

What gives?

An argument can be made the Steelers took one step back in 2013 in order to take two steps forward in 2014 and beyond. Jarvis Jones was selected with the 17th overall pick, and, opposite LaMarr Woodley, battled with Jason Worilds for the team's starting right outside linebacker spot.

By the end of the season, Woodley was on injured reserve again, Worilds had clearly beaten out Jones but was on the defensive left side.

Another factor was the absence of a veteran inside linebacker opposite Lawrence Timmons. The fire blitz so frequently used in Dick LeBeau's defense wasn't called as often as it usually does, and Timmons' sack numbers declined as a result.

The need of consistent pass rush can be made out to be more of an issue due to the increasing utilization of rhythmic, short-target passing - something specifically designed to counter strong edge rushing. Still, the pressure and hurry numbers from Steelers defensive players haven't been outstanding enough to think they're challenging many of the offenses they're facing.

It's also fair to question whether moves made in-season, such as the promotion of Cam Heyward to the starting lineup and keeping Worilds on the left side and the reduction of snaps of Shamarko Thomas in favor of Will Allen (pass defense numbers reduced upon Allen's uptick in playing time), were made too late.

These are the kinds of questions the Steelers will need to ask early in the off-season and constantly generate solutions to the highest they can. Those solutions need to come in the form of roster additions and subtractions, as well as tweaks to philosophy.

There's no magic bullet here, but three years isn't even a trend, it's the norm. That will need to change if the Steelers defense is going to become a dominant unit once again.