By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Steelers defensive line is an unsung group, whose primary responsibility is to occupy as many blockers as possible so the team’s talented linebacking corps and secondary can make plays.
Through three games, however, there are some who have questioned whether the Steelers have gotten enough from their D-line and if young backups Cam Heyward and Steve McLendon should get more time. Veteran end Brett Keisel addressed both those topics.
“I always think we can play better,” Keisel said Wednesday after practice. “Even in a shutout, there’s some plays that we probably left out there, an interception or fumble recovery that we could have secured. But as a D-line, it’s really not about the stats. There are other things we need to accomplish.
“The biggest for us is pressuring the quarterback, and we’ve done a pretty good job with that. We could have a few more sacks, but we’ve put the heat on. And that’s really doing our job on the D-line. Our linebackers can have the sacks, but we have to do our best to give them opportunities to make plays.”
Outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley, who has a team-high two sacks, also leads with seven quarterback pressures. Keisel and inside linebacker Larry Foote have four each. End Ziggy Hood has two quarterback pressures, but no other defensive lineman has one. The Steelers have 21 total quarterback pressures, one forced fumble and just one interception.
It certainly seems like there are more plays out there for the Steelers defense to make. Could rotating in young guys like Heyward and McLendon make a difference? Keisel offered his opinion.
“Those guys are doing there jobs, but we expect to rotate a little bit more,” Keisel said. “I think we all need to rotate a little bit more so that we’re all fresh in the fourth quarter. But we have tons of trust in those guys, and if they’re in the game we expect them to win.”
Hood also believed statistics were overrated, as far as the Steelers defensive line was concerned.
“The first thing we try to do is evaluate each other’s technique in the game, and we’ve all done a pretty good job in that area so far,” Hood said. “That’s a good thing, because it allows us to make the play or, more importantly, gives somebody else a chance to make the play. (But) the main thing for us is to put pressure on the QB, and we’re definitely doing a good job with that.
“If the technique is bad, then that means there’s a breakdown in the defense. And it all starts with the D-line. If somebody breaks through the D-line, it means somebody was out of his gap and not doing his technique right. It’s been pretty good so far, but there’s still some things to clean up. Other than that, overall, I’ve seen a lot of improvement so far this season with room for more.”
Heyward contributed last season, primarily due to injuries to Aaron Smith and Keisel, but more was expected from the team’s 2011 No. 1 pick this year.
“Sure, I’d like to play more, and I’m sure that Steve (McLendon) feels the same way,” Heyward said. “(But) the guys ahead of us have earned their spots, and they are well-conditioned athletes. So, they’re not going to come out too often.
“But we have to make sure that we make an impact when we get the chance. I think it’s paying off right now, rotating us guys the way we have, because when the other guys are out there they’re making it happen. It’s a long season, and we’ll get our chance. So, the last thing I’m worried about is playing time.”
But maybe the Steelers coaches should be a little more concerned about it.