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Sack masters

The pressure will be on when the Broncos visit the Steelers.

Who can generate more of it and who can better protect against it loom as perhaps the decisive components of Sunday's matchup at Heinz Field.

The Steelers have outside linebacker T.J. Watt.

The Broncos have outside linebacker Von Miller.

And both teams had trouble keeping their quarterbacks upright last Sunday.

The Broncos surrendered 11 quarterback hits and five sacks in a 23-7 loss to the Ravens in Denver. Teddy Bridgewater was dropped twice and concussed. Drew Locke was put down three times and intercepted.

And all of that got Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler's attention.

"Always does," Butler confirmed prior to practice today. "You want that. How many sacks did we have on them last year?"

The Steelers collected seven when the Broncos visited Heinz Field on Sept. 20, 2020.

The first occurred on third-and-7 from the Steelers' 25-yard line in the first quarter, when outside linebacker Bud Dupree strip-sacked quarterback Jeff Driscoll and safety Mike Hilton recovered.

The last was produced by strong safety Terrell Edmunds on fourth-and-2 from the Steelers' 15 with 1:55 left in regulation helped the Steelers preserve a 26-21 victory.

If guards Dalton Risner and Graham Glasgow are healthy (both missed Denver's loss to Baltimore), the Broncos will line up almost exactly as they did last season from left to right up front (left tackle Garett Boles, Risner, center Lloyd Cushenberry III and Glasgow), with the exception of right tackle (Bobby Massie has replaced Elijah Wilkinson, who started last season against the Steelers).

"Obviously, if you can pressure the quarterback you can create turnovers, you can make big plays, all that stuff," Butler said. "But we gotta get 'em into that position where we know they're going to throw the football. We can't just sit there and say. 'OK, we're gonna end up third-and-4 all the time or third-and-3 all the time.' Then they got a run-pass situations that they might run the ball, they might pass the ball. 

"We gotta try to get 'em in third-and-long as much as we can. If we do, then I like our chances of putting a good rush on 'em."

Watt is a two-time first-team AP All-Pro and last season's runner-up for Defensive Player of the Year. He has 54.5 sacks in 65 career games, including five in three games this season and two at Green Bay.

But Watt took himself to task after the Steelers' 27-17 loss to the Packers last Sunday for getting out of position at times because he was "trying to do too much."

"If you ask T.J. I think he would tell you he learned a lot from that experience in terms of what he needs to do and in terms of playing within the framework of the defense," Butler said. "Sometimes it's good for us as coaches and players to sometimes get your butt whupped, not that T.J. did. He just did some things mentally that he normally doesn't do."

Watt and fellow outside linebacker Alex Highsmith played at Green Bay after missing the Steelers' 24-10 loss to the Bengals on Sept.26 due to groin injuries.

Watt had 2.5 sacks against the Broncos last season.

"Physically, (Watt) will be fine," Butler said. "And so will Highsmith."

Miller has 110.5 sacks in 139 career games. He's a three-time first-team All-Pro and a former Defensive Rookie of the Year, Super Bowl MVP and two-time Defensive Player of the Year runner-up.

Miller has 4.5 sacks this season even though his tag-team partner on the pass rush, outside linebacker Bradley Chubb, is on the Reserve/Injured list.

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was hit five times and sacked twice, including a strip-sack that produced a Packers' fumble recovery in Green Bay.

Roethlisberger has been sacked 10 times in four games.

He was sacked 13 times in 15 games last season (once by Denver).

"You have to know where he is all the time," Steelers offensive coordinator Matt Canada said of Miller. 

Miller didn't play against the Steelers or anyone else last season (ankle), but is held in no less high regard now that he's back.

"He's a tremendous talent who creates havoc," Canada emphasized. "He's a generational player."