One of the most pleasant surprises of the Steelers 2019 preseason is the inevitable BTSC Isaac Redman Award Winner Tuzar Skipper. In four games, Skipper had five sacks, two of which were also forced fumbles. Not even signed immediately after the draft as an undrafted free agent, Skipper earned his way onto the Steelers’ preseason roster via tryout at rookie mini camp in May. After putting up sack numbers which will get him noticed around the league, it’s difficult to find a reason to keep Skipper off the 53-man roster.
While the statistic of five sacks in four games in which players are splitting time is impressive, how impressive were the sacks themselves? At what point were they in the game? Where they on a blitz or a play where the pass coverage created the opportunity? In order to answer these questions, let’s break down all five sacks for Tuzar Skipper in the 2019 NFL preseason. I timed all of the sacks from the snap of the ball to the first contact made by Skipper. For simplicity’s sake, I rounded all times to the nearest 0.25 seconds.
Week 1 vs Tampa Bay
With 12:41 left in the 4th quarter, the Buccaneers had the ball on their own 41 yard line for 3rd & 2. The Steelers were not in base defense, so only two defensive linemen were on the line of scrimmage along with the two outside linebackers. The Steelers blitzed Ulysees Gilbert III from the inside linebacker position, giving a pass rush of five players. Skipper was lined up at the right OLB position and bull-rushed the left tackle. After getting him leaning back, Skipper ducked to the inside of the tackle for sack and a loss of 8 yards. The time from the snap of the ball to the sack was 2.0 seconds.
Week 2 vs Kansas City
With 3:43 remaining in the 4th quarter, the Chiefs had the ball on their own 43 yard line for 1st & 10. The Steelers were not in base defense, so once again only two defensive linemen were on the line of scrimmage along with the two outside linebackers. The Steelers ran a delayed blitz by Tegray Scales from the inside linebacker position, giving a pass rush of five players. Skipper was lined up at the left OLB position and speed rushed around the right tackle for a loss of 6 yards on the sack. The time from the snap of the ball to the sack was 3.0 seconds.
Week 3 at Tennessee
With 11:12 left in the 3rd quarter, the Titans had the ball for a 2nd & 9 play in Steelers’ territory at the 33 yard line. The Steelers were not in base defense, so they had a pass rush of four players. Although Tyler Matakevich was around the line of scrimmage, his primary responsibility was the running back coming out of the backfield. Skipper was lined up at the left OLB position and shifted outside of the tight end when he came in motion to his side. At the snap, the TE pulled to his left away from Skipper. The Titan’s right tackle could not get to Skipper in time as he used his speed to get straight to the quarterback and strip the ball with Tyson Alualu recovering. The time from the snap of the ball to the strip-sack was 2.25 seconds.
Week 4 at Carolina
With 12:00 left in the 3rd quarter, the Panthers had the ball on their own 29 yard line for 2nd & 11. The Steelers were actually in base defense this time, so all three defensive linemen and the two outside linebackers rushed the passer. Skipper was lined up at the right OLB position and rushed the left tackle. For this sack, Henry Mondeaux had the pressure up the middle after 2.75 seconds but could not finish the play. When the quarterbacked ducked forward to escape Mondeaux, Skipper fought to the inside of the tackle to get the sack for a loss of 7 yards. The time from the snap of the ball to Skipper’s first contact with the quarterback was 3.5 seconds.
Skipper’s second sack of the game was with 6:04 left in the 3rd quarter. The Panthers were at midfield with a 1st & 10 when Skipper got such an excellent jump off of the ball it was close as to whether or not he was offsides. The Steelers were not in base defense yet again, so only four players were rushing. Skipper was lined up at the left OLB position and came off the ball so fast the right tackle had no chance. Skipper was able to knock the ball loose from the QB who was able to recover his own fumble for a loss of 9 yards. The time from the snap of the ball to the sack was 2.0 seconds.
There were several things which stood out with these five particular plays. First, Skipper got sack from both the right and the left OLB position. Next, the speed in which the play occurred was fantastic for most of the plays. The first sack against the Panthers was aided by a teammate, but Skipper was still in position to finish the play. While on most plays Skipper used his speed around the edge to get to the quarterback, he still managed to have an effective bull-rush, and he was able to duck inside the blocker to finish the play more than once.
The bottom line is the rest of the NFL saw the same plays Steelers’ fans did over the last four games. If Tuzar Skipper did not do enough to make this roster, I’m not sure what the Steelers could have possibly seen to make it any different. He is one player who will get scooped up if the Steelers give anybody else the chance to have him.
Hopefully they do the wise things and put him on the 53-man roster. He’s definitely earned it.