Quarterback Pressure Battle Could Decide Steelers vs. Rams
When the Steelers and Rams kick off Sunday afternoon in Los Angeles, it will mark the third time in six games Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett has faced a top-ten pass rush this season.
According to Pro Football Focus, the Rams currently boast the ninth-best pass rush by PFF grade. The Steelers have also faced the San Francisco 49ers (1) and the Cleveland Browns (3).
For the Rams, it’s even more jarring, as they have already faced the Eagles (6), Bengals (7) and Seahawks (8), and will now face Pittsburgh’s fourth-ranked pass rush that includes T.J. Watt, who leads the NFL with 8.0 sacks despite the Steelers already having had their bye week.
For the two quarterbacks, the difference against pressure is surprising.
Pickett, a second-year quarterback struggling in offensive coordinator Matt Canada’s much-maligned scheme, has faced pressure on 77 of his 178 total dropbacks this year, completing 32 of 60 passes for 438 yards, 2 touchdowns and 1 interception, good for a passer rating of 81.1. His Rams counterpart, Super Bowl LVI-winning quarterback Matthew Stafford, hasn’t fared nearly as well. On 89 pressured dropbacks, Stafford has completed just 28 of 71 attempts, good for 430 yards, 2 touchdowns and 1 interception. His rating on those dropbacks is an abysmal 53.1.
While both teams’ pass rushes have received high marks from PFF, the Steelers are getting to the quarterback at a significantly higher rate. Through five games, Pittsburgh’s defense has registered 17 sacks, good for nearly 3.5 sacks per game. Meanwhile, the Rams have managed 12 sacks in six games, a rate of 2 sacks per contest.
That margin is obviously significant, with the Steelers racking up nearly 50 percent more sacks than the Rams have managed, and in one fewer game, but that gap could be diminished somewhat by the Rams’ offensive line, which is at least marginally better overall and boasts the PFF’s top-rated guard, former Steeler Kevin Dotson.
With both teams featuring pass rushers who have been named the league’s Defensive Player of the Year in seasons past, the focus is sure to be on the battle in the trenches. Whoever prevails in that battle has a strong chance of winning this game. Curiously, however, the pressure has had a more direct effect on Stafford and the Rams than it has on Pickett’s Steelers.
The Rams currently sit at 3-3, with their three losses coming in their three worst pass-blocking performances: home losses to the 49ers and Eagles, as well as a road defeat to the Browns. The 3-2 Steelers, meanwhile, lost two of their three worst pass-block showings, but managed to beat Cleveland in their worst pass-blocking effort of the season.
When the clock reaches zero in Los Angeles, there is a strong chance that pass protection and quarterback pressure will be one of the biggest, if not the biggest, factors in the outcome of the game.
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