Even if the Pittsburgh Steelers got to the quarterback seven times in Week 1, they remain an unproven pass rush until this Sunday.
The Minnesota Vikings may have only played a weak New Orleans Saints team, but their ability to protect the quarterback certainly notable in Week 1. For Sam Bradford to stay in the pocket for what seemed like an eternity, time and time again, without getting hit allowed the Vikings to pick apart the Saints’ defense on every play.
Last season, Minnesota’s two weak spots were the offensive line and the running game. Well, with a brand new set of five and a rookie running back, it appears they’ve fixed both this offseason.
While the Steelers should praise their pass rush for their efforts against the Browns, squaring up with the Vikings’ linemen will be a much tougher challenge. Consequently, giving Bradford as much time as he has against New Orleans could lead to a disastrous day for Pittsburgh.
The Steelers will already be without defensive end, Stephon Tuitt, assumably. After suffering a bicep injury in Week 1, his status is week-to-week, which doesn’t leave much hope for a Week 2 return.
Tyson Alualu isn’t a bad replacement, but he’s certainly no Tuitt when it comes to rushing the passer. So, Pittsburgh will already be a man down on the defensive line, which puts a lot of pressure on T.J. Watt coming off the left side of the ball, behind Alualu.
On the other side, Bud Dupree should make his 2017 season debut in Week 2. While Anthony Chickillo played extraordinarily in place of Dupree last week, having the speed No. 48 brings is a game changer in the pass rush.
Pittsburgh doesn’t need to put up seven sacks to beat the Vikings. They will, however, need to put enough pressure on Bradford to force his hand a few times. Without it, he’s already proven he can pick apart a defense, and while the Steelers continue to look for answers in the secondary, giving Bradford time to find holes will lead to a long game on Sunday.
Week 2 isn’t going to decide the fate of this Steelers defense, but it is going to put an opening grade on how competitive they really are. With all the hype surrounding them, they need to get to the quarterback more than once.
Without a few hits on Bradford, Sunday’s home opener could be an offensive battle the Steelers don’t want to get into against one of the NFL’s best defenses.