LAS VEGAS — The Steelers front always stands out, especially as pass rushers. That remains true this year, and even minus Cam Heyward, the group is on a blistering pressure rate right now against quarterbacks the last two weeks. Since Heyward went down, the Steelers’ pass rush has leveled up. The group racked up a whopping 49 pressures against Deshaun Watson and Jimmy Garoppolo, showing just what they can do as a unit.
They have ten sacks and seven takeaways over these last two games. The defense has powered the Steelers forward after a rocky start against San Francisco. Part of that is the magic of T.J. Watt, but it’s not just him. While Watt leads the group in all of the usual metrics, the other plays around him are stepping up, too.
Rookie defensive lineman Keeanu Benton has kicked at the door during training camp and the regular season. The rookie saw an opportunity to step up meaningfully when Cam Heyward went down. He flashed against San Francisco when Heyward went down and, since then, has continued his ascent. Benton played most of the second half against the Raiders, and the Steelers were better off for it.
“But anytime they’re chipping as much as they were tonight, or anytime they weren’t chipping, we were trying to make it our best effort to make the pass rush as hot as possible,” Watt said. “I think we did a good job of keeping them under duress tonight and it helps when we have them in those obvious passing situations where we can pin our ears back. And obviously when the guys in the back are playing as well as they were tonight, it helps to have that quarterback hold it for just a split second longer.”
Larry Ogunjobi and others continue to ball out. Montravius Adams and Benton shined against the Raiders. Adams played his best game in a Steelers uniform, for my money, flashing his impressive burst off the line of scrimmage and flying around the field. Benton continues his ascent up the mountain top. Nothing is perfect for the team up front, and they did have some tough reps, but that group has stepped up in a way more than anyone could have hoped without the group’s unquestioned leader.
It’s a group effort for this defense to shine, but they have found a formula that seems to work for them. As they continue to take the next step, the Steelers will need help each week, especially with more challenges on the schedule in C.J. Stroud and Lamar Jackson.