The Green Bay Packers not only have to deal with a disruptive Pittsburgh defensive front, but also a defense that blitzes at one of the highest rates in the NFL.
Pittsburgh enters Week 10 with the sixth highest quarterback pressure rate in the NFL. This is a product of having TJ Watt and Alex Highsmith at edge rusher, both of whom rank in the top 15 in pressures generated this season, but the Steelers also blitz at the third-highest rate in football, sending additional defenders on nearly 40 percent of their defensive snaps.
“It’s not as crazy Dick LeBeau blitzes as it used to be,” said offensive coordinator Adam Stenavich. “They still bring a lot of pressure but one thing they really do, is their edge rushers are elite, and their interior rushers are underrated. Those guys do a really good job of pushing the pocket and disrupting inside. So it’s going to be all five guys across the board up front are going to get challenged. Our backs are going to get challenged.”
Out of 86 eligible linebackers, cornerbacks, and safeties, Pittsburgh nickel corner Chandon Sullivan ranks 16th in pass rush rate, going after the quarterback on nearly 20 percent of his defensive snaps. Steelers linebackers Kwon Alexander and Cole Holcomb rank 27th and 38th, respectively, in that same category.
“Their linebackers are very physical players,” added Stenavich. “Their whole defense in general, with how their DBs play, they really challenge you across the board. You have to go out their and beat them, they aren’t going to beat themselves. They do a really good job of just being physical.”
Communication along the offensive line is always an important element but will be critical if the Packers are going to find any sort of success against Pittsburgh. This not only includes how the offensive line intends to handle Watt, Highsmith, and any stunts thrown at them, but also whose responsibility is what when it comes to handling these Steelers blitzers.
Along with the offensive line, the Green Bay tight ends helping to chip Watt and Highsmith will be another key factor in helping to keep Jordan Love clean, as will the role of the running backs in picking up any free blitzers. The gameplan put together by Matt LaFleur and Adam Stenavich and the execution by those on the field is going to be near flawless, or Steelers will wreak havoc.
“They got really good guys,” said Jon Runyan about the Steelers defense. “I’ve played against Watt and Highsmith two years ago and they’re better players now than they were then. You got Heyward in there. Mont Adams in there and he was here for a little bit. Linebackers are downhill. Of course, Steno has a gameplan for them. I don’t want to share too much about it. But we will be ready for it and we’ve got the guys to block them up.”
We’ve seen over the last month-plus of football how important it is for Love to have time in the pocket. During Green Bay’s four game losing streak, he was pressured on the fourth-most dropbacks of all quarterbacks. He also led the NFL in interceptions in that span of games with seven. However, this past Sunday we saw the pendulum swing in the other direction, with Love being pressured on only seven of his 31 dropbacks. The end result was an efficient performance with Love being more decisive and having much better decision-making.
For as disruptive as Pittsburgh has been getting after the quarterback, they haven’t been nearly as stout defensively against the run. They enter Week 10 allowing 4.5 yards per rush, which ranks 26th. Being able to lean on the run game will be key for the Packers offense, as it will help open up opportunities in the passing game, as we saw against the Rams, and takeaway some of the bite and aggressiveness that this Steelers pass rush has because they’ll have to defend both the run and the pass on any given play.
“It’s huge,” said Zach Tom on the importance of having a run game to lean on. “When you have the threat to run the ball, it changes the way defensive players play. It takes a little bit off their rush. It’s important for us to be able to establish the run early because when we don’t, you get into obvious passing situations, and defenses are able to tee off. So that’s the main focus.”
On the flip of all of this, if the Packers struggle on early downs, whether that be from an ineffective run game, inconsistency in the passing game, or penalties, they are then going to find themselves in predictable passing situations – something that has happened too often this season – and that in all likelihood is going to spell disaster for them against the Steelers.
When blitzed, Love is completing 57 percent of his passes at 6.2 yards per attempt. In general, when under pressure, he is completing only 43 percent of throws at 5.5 yards per attempt. In all categories, Love ranks in the bottom third of all quarterbacks this season—and is near last in a few. Look for Green Bay to utilize the quick passing game in an effort to get the ball out of Love’s hands quickly before the pass rush and any blitzers are able to get home.
“I think it affects a lot,” said Love of going up against the Steelers pass rush. “Offensively, the protection, where we are sliding to, making sure we are getting as many hands on those guys. Just always knowing where they are at. Knowing how they like to rush. Just watching them throughout the week and what they like to do. Like I said, you just have to have a feel for where they are at.
“TJ’s a great player. Plays with really good effort on every play and I think their whole defense does a good job of that. Just something we’ve got to be able to match that.”