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30 Scenarios in 30 Days: The Steelers will top their 2023 sack total

The Pittsburgh Steelers are preparing for the 2024 regular season, but before the real games begin, the team has to head to training camp back at Saint Vincent College in order to fine tune their skills. As we here at SCN prepare you for the start of camp, we give you a series called “30 Scenarios in 30 Days” which gives you a Steelers scenario every day leading up to the start of camp.

It is simple how it works. We provide you the scenario, reasons why it will or won’t happen, and then our prediction for what we think will take place.

Let’s get to the scenario…

Scenario: The Steelers will top their 2023 sack total (47)

Why it will happen: Last season the sack totals were up from the 2022 number, but far from what many expect when it comes to the Steelers pass rush. Why were things so bad? That might be difficult to answer, but it all starts upfront. Playing the majority of the season with Cam Heyward, and then more with a less-than-100% Heyward certainly is the start to why things didn’t pan out the way many expected.

On top of Heyward being out of the lineup, and not fully healthy, Larry Ogunjobi’s sub-par play didn’t permit the pass rushers, both inside and out, to get clean 1-on-1 situations where they could win their battle and get to the quarterback. Nonetheless, in a season where T.J. Watt almost hit 20 sacks, you’d expect the rest of the defense to pick up the slack and get the 2023 total higher than 47.

Looking ahead to 2024, the reason I think the Steelers will surpass their 2023 total is more than just Heyward being healthy, but it does start upfront. Keeanu Benton is slated for a huge sophomore season, which should take the pressure off Heyward and Ogunjobi to be on the field longer than they probably should. Outside of the defensive front, is there anyone who still doubts T.J. Watt?

I didn’t think so. But there are still questions surrounding the rest of the pass rushers on the outside.

Last season, coming off a 14.5 sack season in 2022, Alex Highsmith recorded just 7 sacks. Not ideal when you look at the attention Watt gets every time he is on the field. Markus Golden isn’t on the roster, so who will take the place of his 4 sacks in 2023? Most would point to Nick Herbig taking a leap in his second season. Herbig recorded 3 sacks on his own in his rookie season in limited action, so you could see him easily getting closer to Highsmith’s total of 7 with increased snaps.

But where will the other sacks come from? It will have to come from a healthy Heyward, who had 2 sacks last year, and several others, including players like Patrick Queen who has proven he is more than capable of blitzing the quarterback up the middle of the defense. If Watt can continue his typical season 15+ sacks, and the rest of the defenders remain healthy, they absolutely should be able to not just eclipse the 47 sacks from 2023, but get over the 50 sack mark.

Why it won’t happen: Banking on Watt to continue his tear in the league might be a mistake. I’m not about to say Watt won’t live up to his usual standard, but you do have to wonder what the team will do if Watt is not healthy, or is in-and-out of the lineup? How will they handle carrying the load even if someone like Cam Heyward isn’t what we all are used to seeing?

The Steelers will have to get creative with their pass rushing, and that will include the insider linebackers getting more involved. There is no doubt the Steelers under Teryl Austin are focused predominantly on their secondary. Keith Butler was the czar of the pass rush, and a genius at drawing up different stunts to help free up players like Watt and company. Can Austin, and his coaching staff, dial up those same types of schemes?

I’m skeptical after what we’ve seen under Austin as the defensive coordinator.

Prediction: While I am skeptical of Austin as a defensive coordinator, and his ability to schematically get players in position to succeed, I think the Steelers will amass more than 47 sacks if everyone stays healthy. If Austin could dial up pressures like Butler did, not just relying on T.J. Watt’s freakish athleticism, I’d suggest this group could get close to 55 sacks this season. I’m not sure he is capable of that, but I think the Steelers will eclipse 47 sacks in 2024.

Miss a scenario? You can see the full list of scenarios below, and be sure to stay tuned to SCN for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for training camp.

30 Scenarios In 30 Days: The Steelers Offense Will Have More Turnovers This Season

30 Scenarios In 30 Days: The Steelers Will Go Above And Beyond Their Win-Loss Prediction In 2024


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