Steelers affecting quarterbacks, one play at a time

The Steelers lead the NFL in sacks with 13 through their first three games. They’re second in turnovers forced with eight.

But defensive coordinator Teryl Austin wants more.

While the sack and takeaway numbers are great, the Steelers are 28th in the NFL in total defense, allowing 387 yards per game, while they’re tied for 20th in points allowed.

It’s only a three-game sample, but Austin expects all of those things to match up at some point this season.

“I don’t want to limit us on anything I want us to be. I want us to be a complete defense and we’ve got a long way to go there,” Austin said on Thursday at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. “But our guys are really working at it. Each week, I think we’ve gotten better. And that’s really what we want.”

As it is, however, he’s not going to complain about being at the top of the league in sacks and takeaways.

“We have a culture. We’re trying to build a culture here of being able to sack the quarterback, get him in the long-yardage situations and drives and being able to take the ball away and give it back to our offense so our offense has more possessions to try to score,” Austin said. “When you look at football games, when you win the turnover battle you’ve got a great chance to win the game.”

Helping that has been the solid play of outside linebackers T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith. Watt, who was named AFC Defensive Player of the Month for September, leads the NFL with six sacks and 16 quarterback pressures while also forcing two fumbles and recovering another. Highsmith, meanwhile, has gotten just one sack to this point, but he’s also gotten five pressures and forced a fumble.

The ability of those two edge rushers to affect a quarterback leads to plenty of errant passes. The Steelers are allowing the seventh-lowest completion percentage in the league.

“I think when you watch quarterbacks, you see them start feeling that rush feet get a little hot, maybe a little bit you know just makes the throws just a little bit less accurate,” Austin said. “And it’s like if you have a big back, and you’re pounding the big back at the end of the game, you know you start feeling all of a sudden those three-yard runs become five- and six-yard runs. It’s the same thing with a pass rush. If we’re getting hits on them, we’re getting home then the quarterback gets a little bit antsy because he doesn’t want to get hit – like a zero-sum thing.”

Doing that Sunday against the Houston Texans could be critical to the Steelers’ success.

Rookie quarterback, C.J. Stroud has not thrown an interception in his first three games for the Texans, but he has been sacked 11 times, despite the Texans not allowing a sack in their Week 3 win over the Jaguars. His streak of 121 pass attempts in his first three games without an interception is the longest by an NFL rookie to start his career.

• Dale Lolley is co-host of “SNR Drive” on Steelers Nation Radio. Subscribe to the podcast here: Apple Podcast | iHeart Podcast

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