PITTSBURGH -- For the first time since Week 7 of the 2016 season, the Pittsburgh Steelers failed to record a single sack in a game.
Entering Sunday, the Steelers had a sack in 75 consecutive contests, the longest streak in NFL history.
A defensive unit missing outside linebackers T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith (groin injuries) couldn’t get pressure on Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow in Pittsburgh's 24-10 loss. And it wasn’t just that the Steelers (1-2) didn’t bring down Burrow -- who was sacked nine times and hit 16 times in the previous two games -- it’s that they were hardly able to get any pressure on the second-year quarterback at all.
The Steelers' pass rush pressured Burrow one time Sunday afternoon for a 5.6% team pressure rate, according to NFL Next Gen Stats; it was their lowest rate in a game since Next Gen Stats was launched in 2016. The Steelers also didn’t record an official quarterback hit.
“We got some hits on him early,” defensive end Cameron Heyward said. “We caused an interception because of it. But then after that, they got the lead, and he wasn’t really exposed to that. He got the ball out quick. Tip the hat to their offense. That’s going to be the game plan for any team that plays us. They’re not going to sit back and let us do it.
“When we don’t get the lead, we do not get the chance to really light our hair on fire, and that’s what’s going to happen.”
The Steelers never led on Sunday, and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw two interceptions that gave the Bengals’ offense a short field.
After the game, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin pointed to the Bengals' lead, which was at least two scores for the entire second half, as one significant obstacle keeping the Steelers from getting a sack.
“They were in control of the game,” Tomlin said. “I mean, what are we talking about? It was 24-7 for a significant portion of the game. When you're in that position, you're not going to expose yourself to negativity. It's situational. Yes, we had people missing, but how the game was unfolding was an element of play in that, as well.”
Heyward also said the Steelers’ inability to stop the ground game was a contributing factor to their ineffective pass rush. Bengals running back Joe Mixon finished with 90 yards on 18 carries, averaging five yards a carry.
“We didn’t stop the run,” Heyward said. “You can sit up here and say we didn’t have TJ or Alex. We have guys who’ve got to the quarterback before, and when you don’t stop the run, you keep them in situations where they can throw quick. I know they’ve got a heck of a team over there. If you keep them on pace and don’t put your quarterback at harm, that’s what’s going to happen.”
While Pittsburgh safety Terrell Edmunds, who had a first-half interception, said the secondary didn’t feel any added stress with the less effective pass rush, he acknowledged it meant they had to cover their men longer.
“We have plaster, just on the back end,” Edmunds said. “We know we have to keep the top down, and we have to go out there and make plays. That’s what we have to do. That’s what we have to go out there and do. Have to cover a little bit longer, because we know the guys up front, we put our trust in them, so we just have to help them out, as well.”
In addition to Watt and Highsmith, the Steelers were missing nose tackle Tyson Alualu (ankle) and defensive end Stephon Tuitt (knee), both of whom are on injured reserve. Tuitt is eligible to come off IR beginning this week, but there’s been no indication he’ll be available. He didn’t participate in training camp practices, and he also is dealing with the death of his brother in a hit-and-run crash.
“I don’t know what the mood is right now,” Heyward said. “Just we sucked today. Things did not look well and didn’t play in our favor. Our level of execution was not high.
"Going into the half, we didn’t take the field and get off the field, and when you have that, that’s a recipe for disaster. Defense, we didn’t play well. Hopefully, it’s the worst one of the year.”