Defense Must Find Ways to Harass Matthew Stafford
Mandatory Credit: Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports
Due to injuries, inconsistent play, and even poor defensive strategy, Pittsburgh’s once stout pass-rush has been quite underwhelming over the last three years. In 2011, they ranked tied for 17th in sacks with 35.0, tied for 15th last fall with 37.0, and they are ranked 28th overall this year with 16.0 through their first nine games.
Unfortunately for the Steelers’ pass-rushers, this weekend they will face the Detroit Lions’ offense. A unit I might add which has done a masterful job of keeping their quarterback upright.
Matthew Stafford has attempted 373 passes during Detroit’s 6-3 start, and the Lions’ veteran signal-caller has only been sacked on 2.6% of his dropbacks during the team’s first nine games. Stafford has only been sacked 10 times this season, and both of those numbers are tops in the NFL at the moment.
From Stafford’s quick release, to his surprising athleticism, to the solid play of Detroit’s offensive line, and the confidence that the Lions’ signal-caller has to throw it up to Megatron, everyone on the unit has performed tremendously this season when it has come to keeping 2009’s first overall pick comfortable in the passing-game.
This does not bode well for Pittsburgh entering this weekend’s game, especially since they have largely failed to generate pocket collapse on a consistent basis this fall.
LaMarr Woodley leads the team with 5.0 sacks and looked like he was back to his 2009-self early in the season. Sadly, Woodley’s performance has declined as of late, he has not recorded a sack in three weeks, and he left last Sunday’s game versus the Bills with a calf injury. While he could be ready to play on Sunday, how effective a hobbled Woodley will be is an enormous question.
If Woodley is ineffective, then Pittsburgh will have to turn to their other two outside linebackers for pressure in the forms of Jason Worilds and Jarvis Jones. While Worilds (3.0 sacks) won his starting gig back over Jones (1.0) earlier this month, neither player has created the type of pocket collapse which has made any of us forget James Harrison.
Hopefully Pittsburgh can receive strong performances from not only their outside linebackers, but from other members of their front-seven as well. Lawrence Timmons (1.0 sack) might need to come up big on an A-gap blitz or two throughout the game, and Pittsburgh’s defensive linemen will also be counted on to supply some heat and pocket-collapse to boot.
Cameron Heyward has 2.0 sacks and four passes defended so far this season and has shined since he became the starter over Ziggy Hood back in October. Heyward will need to lead the charge in the trenches, and it would not hurt if Steve McLendon, Brett Keisel, and Hood chipped in with some pressure as well.
If Pittsburgh’s defense plays patty-cake and cannot generate any pressure on Detroit’s signal-caller, then this game will be over by halftime. In the event Woodley is sidelined, then it will be up to the rest of Pittsburgh’s front-seven and even some well-timed pressure brought from defensive backs to harass Stafford.
When it comes to the Steelers’ defense, I could honestly care less where.the pressure comes from on Sunday. Yet to ground the league’s third best passing offense, that unit cannot allow Stafford to only be sacked on 2.6% of his passing attempts.
Stats & Contract Info. Provided By: ESPN.com, Steelers.com , Spotrac, and Pro Football Reference
Follow on Twitter: @DominicDiTolla and @NicePickCowherC
Like “NPC” on Facebook: Nice Pick, Cowher