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Can The Steelers Pass Rush Lead Them To The Super Bowl?

Over the first 8 weeks of the season, the Pittsburgh Steelers had just 8 sacks.  That was the fewest in the NFL, and the corresponding 2.84% sack rate was also the worst in the league.

Since then, things have changed pretty significantly.  Pittsburgh has 36 sacks, most in the league since the start of week 9, five more than any other team in the NFL. 1  And only Arizona’s defense (8.94%) has a higher sack rate than Pittsburgh’s 8.53% since then.

Here’s the sack rate for the Steelers defense in each game this season: in a black horizontal line, I’ve shown the league average sack rate.

We all know that Tom Brady has had his greatest postseason struggles when facing pressure. Here’s what I wrote last year:

As usual, the case to beating the Patriots starts with getting pressure on Brady. There’s good reason for that: in the Brady era, New England has lost as a favorite in the postseason five times, and the opposing team’s pass rush was a factor in each game. On average, Brady was sacked three times and was hit 6.8 times in those games. Getting to Brady is much easier said than done, and it’s hardly a guarantee of victory, but it does seem to be the most recognizable path to success for Denver.

Patriots under pressure

Year 	Opp    Pts 	  Cmp	 Att    Yds 	TD 	Int   Sacks  QB Hits
2012 	BAL     13 	  29 	  54    320 	1 	 2 	    0 	  7
2011 	NYG     17 	  27 	  41    266 	2 	 1 	    2 	  8
2010 	NYJ     21 	  29 	  45    259 	2 	 1 	    5     7
2009 	BAL     14 	  23 	  42    132 	2 	 3 	    3 	  3
2007 	NYG     14 	  29 	  48    229 	1 	 0   	5 	  9
Avg      —      15.8  27.4    46.0  241.2 	1.6  1.4 	3.0   6.8

That came before the Broncos battered and bruised Brady in the AFC Championship Game last season. There, Denver’s defense had 3 sacks and 17(!!) quarterbacks hits on Brady, with 7 hits coming from DeMarcus Ware, and 4 hits and 2.5 sacks coming from Von Miller. Can the Steelers replicate that tomorrow? James Harrison is younger than Brady, but at 38, not by much: but the edge rusher has turned back the clock, with 7.5 sacks in his last 10 games. But it’s not just Harrison: Bud Dupree, who completely obliterated the combine two years ago, has 5 sacks in his last 6 games, while Stephon Tuitt has 16 quarterback hits in 16 games this year.

  1. Notably, the Giants are 2nd in sacks over that period, with 31; meanwhile, the Giants had the second-worst sack rate, at 2.85%, and second fewest sacks, with 8, over the first eight weeks. []
  • sacramento gold miners

    All great QBs become less great when they are hit early, it even happened to Joe Montana a few times in the postseason. And without Gronk, the Patriots don’t have the weapons of other NE teams. All it takes is one hit to either rattle Brady, or cause an injury which reduces his effectiveness. The Patriots are well aware of this, and that’s why they the short passes have been a staple of their offense for years.

    Steelers will need to borrow a page from the decisive 2011 win over NE. Brady was neutralized, with just 198 passing yards, and pressured all day. Even with Gronk and Fernandez, the Pats receivers were locked down for most of the day. It was a two possession game until a very late NE TD when the Steelers were in softer coverage. A defensive safety put the exclamation point on a strong defensive game. Offensively, Big Ben torched New England that day, as well.

  • Mike

    Denver didn’t have 7 sacks vs Brady last year. Brady has never been sacked more than 5 times in a playoff game in his career (only 1 RS game in his career with over 5 sacks).