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Record-setting pressure

Posted Feb 5, 2018

Sacks piled up at the right times in 2017.

The 56 sacks registered by the Steelers’ defense in 2017 were impactful as well as historical.

Never before had a Steelers’ defense amassed that many in a single season. But beyond surpassing the franchise standard of 55 established in 1994 and matched in 2001, the 56 quarterback drops the Steelers collected influenced games with regularity.

A sampling:

-Rookie linebacker T.J. Watt’s sack of DeShone Kizer on second-and-8 from the Steelers’ 9-yard line in the third quarter helped stall a drive short of the end zone in the regular-season opener on Sept. 10 at Cleveland. The Browns settled for a field goal and a 14-10 deficit in a game the Steelers eventually won, 21-18.

-Linebacker James Harrison’s sack of Alex Smith on third-and-10 from the Steelers’ 40 with 58 seconds left in the fourth quarter on Oct. 15 at Kansas City helped keep the Chiefs at bay and preserve what became a 19-13 triumph.

-Watt’s sack of Brett Hundley on first-and-10 from the Packers’ 18 with 1:20 left in the fourth quarter on Nov. 26 helped trigger a three-and-out that got the ball back for the Steelers at their 30 with 17 seconds left in regulation. That was just enough time to move the ball 35 yards in three plays and then kick a field goal that won the game as time expired, 31-28.

-Linebacker Bud Dupree’s sack of Andy Dalton on third-and-2 from the Bengals’ 20 late in the fourth quarter on Dec. 4 in Cincinnati resulted in a punt that got the ball back for the offense. The Steelers took over with good field possession (the Steelers’ 41) and enough time to work with (2:42 left in regulation). They parlayed both into a last-play field goal in a 23-20 victory.

The defense got contributions from 15 players toward its NFL-leading sacks total, led by defensive end and defensive captain Cam Heyward’s career-high 12. That was the most by a Steelers defensive lineman since Keith Willis had 12 in 1986, and two shy of the 14 Willis piled up in 1983 (the most by a Steelers defensive lineman since sacks became an official statistic in 1982).

Heyward had two sacks in a game four times in 2017.

He has six multi-sacks games in his regular-season career and the Steelers are 6-0 in those games.

First-year cornerback Mike Hilton demonstrated a knack for generating pressure from the slot and ended up with four sacks. Hilton collected three of those on Dec. 25 at Houston and in the process became the third Steelers defensive back to come up with a hat trick of sacks in a game (Troy Polamalu, Sept. 18, 2005 at Houston; Carnell Lake, Nov. 30, 1997 at Arizona).

The record-setting sack was produced by defensive lineman Tyson Alualu, who got Kizer (him again) on second-and-8 from the Browns’ 38 in the fourth quarter of the regular-season finale on Dec. 31 against Cleveland. That was part of a fourth-quarter shutout pitched by the defense in a 28-24 Steelers victory.