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Were the Steelers’ 2017 sack totals a sign of things to come? Or just smoke and mirrors?

I was able to talk with Bryan Knowles of Football Outsiders to talk all things Steelers for the upcoming season.

NFL: Tennessee Titans at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers defense might not have been the second-coming off the Steel Curtain, but they did something which hadn’t been done since sacks were a current statistic in the NFL.

In 2017, the team’s 56 sacks set a new franchise record for the black-and-gold. Not too shabby, right? Some chalk it up to playing sub-par quarterbacks, but a sack is still a sack. After all, the defense doesn’t hand pick who they play and what quarterback is lining up opposite them. Their job is to seek and destroy.

Regardless of their 2017 statistics, I was able to ask Football Outsider’s Bryan Knowles some questions all surrounding the black-and-gold. The first question I asked was about the pass rush. Were the sack totals in 2017 a sign of things to come? Or was it simply just happenstance for the Steelers?

The Steelers had a pressure rate of 34.3% last season, fourth-highest in the league. I guess you could say that means their league-leading sack rate was higher than it should have been, but I’d stop short of calling it smoke and mirrors. It’s just not coming from the edge rushers. Heyward and Tuitt led the Steelers in quarterback knockdowns last season, and Vince Williams and Mike Hilton finished ahead of Bud Dupree.

Dupree and T.J. Watt combined for just 22 knockdowns and 46 pass pressures last season. Dupree actually had the fifth-worst pass stop rate among qualified edge rushers last season, though his QB hurries jumped from eight to 26.5 last season. Each player had success elsewhere – Dupree was one of the best run-stopping edge rushers in the league last season, and we’ll get to Watt in a second – but neither are really the pass-rushing terror which would bump the defense to the next level.

Knowles brings up some good points regarding the scheme of the Steelers’ defense, and how it can impact where the pressure comes from. This would explain why both T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree aren’t asked to rush the passer as pure 3-4 outside linebackers, but are asked to drop into coverage and utilize their athleticism.

What do you think? Do you think the 2018 Steelers will again be near the franchise mark regarding sacks in a season, or will they fall back down to earth? Let us know in the comment section below!