When someone talks about the Pittsburgh Steelers, it is natural for an individual to think about defense. Whether it is the defense of the 1970s, the Blitzburgh units of the 1990s or the 'Renegade' units of the 2000s which all ranked among the best in the NFL.
Relentless pass rushers who harassed opposing quarterbacks to the point where if they weren't getting to the quarterback they were forcing the quarterback into mistakes and still having a hand in turnovers created by one thing - pressure on the quarterback.
The Steelers' last visit to the Super Bowl marked the last time the Steelers were able to pressure opposing quarterbacks with any regularity. A steady decline in sacks and quarterback hurries have resulted in a shaky secondary being exposed on more than one occasion, so much so the team has invested heavily into their pass rushers with first and second round selections across the board.
After two preseason games, Mike Tomlin and Keith Butler were tired of waiting for the team to turn their pass rush around, and laid the gauntlet down to the unit via a challenge to do one thing - rush the passer. How did the unit respond? How about to the tune of 6 sacks against a slew of Green Bay Packers quarterbacks. The unit would have had 7 if not for a penalty nullifying a Bud Dupree sack late in the game.
6 sacks. One from each player: Shamarko Thomas, Bud Dupree, Jarvis Jones, L.J. Fort and Ian Wild. However, none were bigger than the sack produced by James Harrison on Aaron Rodgers which resulted in a safety, and turned the tide for the Steelers' defense which resembled Swiss cheese more than a Steel Curtain on the opening drive.
"James (Harrison) went in, and he started it up with the sack/safety." Jarvis Jones said (audio available in sound bar above). "after that, guys started getting after the ball."
Turns out, according to Jones, the challenge Tomlin laid out for his team might have been just what the doctor ordered for this struggling pass rushing unit.
"I mean, they wanted to see us rush. You know, Coach Tomlin put it up on the film all week about getting some pass rush and guys getting to the quarterback. We accepted the challenge."
The best coaches know exactly what buttons to push to get the most out of their team, and Tomlin challenging his defense to get after the quarterback could have been just what the doctor ordered. Sometimes you have to take the "kid gloves" off a team, and if such treatment causes them to respond the way they did Sunday, it was well worth the trouble.
The only downside of such a performance in the preseason is it now becomes the expectation moving forward. When the Steelers play the Buffalo Bills next Saturday, the pass rush reverting back to their previous form is simply unacceptable. It will be up to Tomlin to get his team prepared again, but always focusing on improvement. The Steelers showed improvement against the Packers, but just as Jones said after the game, "if our defense can get after the quarterback, our defense will be a whole lot better."