The Steelers came up just short of matching or surpassing the franchise-record 56 sacks they’d registered last season, but the 52 they managed were still enough to tie the Chiefs for the NFL lead in 2018.
There was an exclamation point or two along the way.
Outside linebacker T.J. Watt’s fourth-quarter sack of Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan resulted in a fumble recovery for a touchdown by inside linebacker L.J. Fort that put the finishing touches on a 41-17 victory over Atlanta on Oct. 7.
Watt also separated Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles from the ball on the last play of a come-from-behind, 20-16 win on Nov. 18 in Jacksonville (defensive end Cam Heyward recovered this time).
Anyone else sensing a trend?
Watt, a second-year pro and a former first-round pick out of Wisconsin in 2017, twice had three sacks in a game (on Sept. 9 at Cleveland and against Atlanta) and finished with one sack in each of his last three games. It all added up to 13 on the season for Watt, and to 20 for Watt through his first 31 NFL games.
Only three NFL linebackers have amassed more sacks than Watt over the past two seasons, Ryan Kerrigan (26), Von Miller (24.5) and Khalil Mack (23).
And no Steelers player had previously collected more than LaMarr Woodley’s combined 15.5 sacks in 2007-08 in his first two seasons in the league.
Watt is the ninth linebacker in the NFL to produce at least 20 sacks over his first two seasons.
Heyward’s eight sacks included a run of 3.5 in a three-game stretch from Nov. 8 against Carolina through Nov. 25 at Denver. Heyward also had one-and-a-half sacks in the Atlanta game.
The Steelers improved to 9-0 since 2011 when Heyward has more than one sack (3-0 this season).
Overall, the Steelers got contributions from 12 players in the sacks category, including two defensive backs (safety Terrell Edmunds and nickel cornerback Mike Hilton had one each).
Defensive tackle Javon Hargrave’s career-high 6.5 sacks surpassed the combined four he had accounted for in his first two seasons.
The Steelers’ ability to rush the passer was evident even when they weren’t piling up sacks.
They only dropped quarterback Tom Brady once in a 17-10 victory over the Patriots on Dec. 16, but the Steelers still finished with seven quarterback hits thanks in no small part to their ability to relentlessly assault the New England pocket throughout.
That wasn’t easy late in the game, but the Steelers still found a wa
“Gassed, man, just absolutely gassed trying to find a second gear, a third gear, any type of gear to et us going,” Watt acknowledged afterward. “I felt like we were applying good pressure, getting him out of the pocket for most of the night.”