PITTSBURGH (93-7 The Fan) – At the midway point of the season, the Steelers’ increasingly youthful defense finds themselves third in the NFL in sacks.
That is a seemingly tremendous improvement for the team, which has increased its sack total every year since finishing 26th in 2014.
Still, there is a desire to return the defense to the consistent state of edge terror that lifted the Steelers to a pair of Super Bowl victories in the last 11 years.
Outside linebackers coach Joey Porter has been tasked with handling a mix of young, raw players and veteran bodies. All of whom are battling for time on the field.
“We’re playing pretty good football and we’re making stops when we need to,” Porter said after Tuesday’s practice. “It’s the middle of the season and I think we still have a long way to go, but I’m pretty happy with where they’re at right now.”
The Steelers sit at 6-2 following Sunday night’s 20-15 win in Detroit. Defensive end Cam Heyward leads the team with five sacks, but Porter has been impressed with the development of first-round pick T.J. Watt, who is second with four takedowns of opposing quarterbacks.
“As far as him knowing the defense, he’s doing real good,” Porter said. “We move him around and do a lot of different things with him. It’s amazing to watch that guy grow and there’s still a lot left that he hasn’t showed yet.”
Watt, who has battled some nagging injuries during his first season as a pro, is trying to keep things in perspective.
“We just have fun,” he said. “At the end of the day, we just truly love football and that’s why we’re able to go out there and have fun and put on your best performance.”
But, while Watt has shown flashes of brilliance, the Steelers have seen little of the team’s all-time sack leader in James Harrison, who has played just 29 snaps this season and did not see the field at all in Detroit.
“He understands the process but is not always going to be happy,” Porter said. “I know he’s going to be frustrated at times because he wants to play. He’s been playing good the last three or four years, so why wouldn’t he want to play? But, he’s just got to understand where we are now though.”