Putting the 'blitz' in 'Blitzburgh'

It wasn't just bravado when outside linebacker T.J. Watt maintained the Steelers "love to blitz," or when head coach Mike Tomlin confirmed pressure as part of the "code we live by," following last Sunday's victory over Denver.

It's only a two-game sample size, but so far no NFL team is blitzing as much as the Steelers.

The website pro-football-reference.com lists the Steelers as having rushed at least five 61.7 percent of the time.

That's well ahead of the league's second-most blitz-happy team (Miami, 47.5 percent) and up even more significantly from the Steelers' blitz rate in 2019 (36.9 percent).

The Steelers have been good at it, too. They're second in the NFL in sacks (10) and tied for second in QB knockdowns (10), and first in total blitzes (58), hurries (making the QB throw sooner than desired or vacate the pocket, 20) and pressures (hurries plus knockdowns plus sacks, 40).

Defensive coordinator Keith Butler isn't complaining.

But Butler is also stressing the need for versatility along with a collective ability to blitz.

"You can't do anything all the time in the National Football League defensively, I don't think, because it catches up to you," Butler maintained. "That's not the only thing we do. We do it well and I like the results, but there's also the downside. And some of the downside is you put your corners and your secondary, you put them in trouble a little bit.

"We can't do that all the time in the National Football League. Anything that you do like that and you're successful at it, somebody's going to try to figure out a way to make you unsuccessful."

Ironically, a blitz that was called but not executed made the Steelers temporarily unsuccessful in last Sunday's 26-21 victory over the Broncos.

Denver cut a 17-6 Steelers' lead to 17-14 on a 20-yard touchdown pass to tight end Noah Fant and then a two-point conversion to Fant with 1:07 left in the third quarter.

Fant beat inside linebacker Devin Bush to the pylon on the touchdown reception while both nickel cornerback Mike Hilton and strong safety Terrell Edmunds covered running back Royce Freeman on a 3-yard route in the flat.

The Steelers prepare for the Week 3 matchup against the Houston Texans

"We screwed it up," Butler acknowledged. "I'm not going to tell you what we did or what we didn't do because I don't want to tell them what we did or didn't do, to be honest with you. We messed it up. We dropped a coverage. We had somebody that was supposed to blitz and they didn't blitz, I'm not going to name him.

"My guys do a good job. They hustle for us, they play hard for us and I'm not going to be critical of them publicly. When we get in our room and make the corrections, I'll do it then. But publicly I don't particularly like to tell who did this and who did that so the blame could go to them.

"There was blame to go to somebody. Right there we just didn't run the blitz. We didn't execute like we should have."

There were no such issues with the Steelers trying to protect a five-point lead and the Broncos facing a fourth-and-2 from the Steelers' 15-yard line with 1:55 left in the fourth quarter.

Edmunds blitzed off the left edge of the defense and got to quarterback Jeff Driskel unblocked and dropped him.

The offense closed out the game from there.

"We want to be aggressive," Butler said. "We want to get after people and all that stuff, but we have got be smart in how we do it."