Kovacevic: Get to Terrelle? Not these Steelers
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OAKLAND, Calif. — By every reasonable reckoning, this should be just another black-and-blue Sunday by the Black Hole for Terrelle Pryor.
But it won't be.
He should get slammed into the Raiders' home turf at every other turn, just as he has been sacked 20 times in the 158 times he has dropped back to pass. He should get pressured into a pick or two. He should fumble. He should, especially after being concussed so badly after one game last month he'd later tweet, “Good hit by whoever it was!” … he really and truly should play his part in the enduring narrative of the young QB going all jelly-legs against the Dick LeBeau defense.
Except that Pryor won't have any of that happen to him.
I sure wouldn't bank on it, anyway.
And that has little to do with one of Jeannette's favorite sons and everything to do with this: The Steelers don't get to any QB anymore.
“We want to. It's certainly a goal,” Cam Heyward was telling me earlier this week. “You always want sacks. We're getting there.”
Maybe they are, but they'd best unleash their inner L.C. Greenwood or Lyle Alzado sooner than later. Because if you ask me, there remains no more pressing issue toward regaining legitimate “relevance” — Mike Tomlin's current nom de guerre for the battle back from 0-4 — than to address their ugliest shortcoming.
Think about it: The offense is coming around, with Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown connecting, Le'Veon Bell rising up, even the line clicking. The defense as a whole, believe it or not, ranks No. 1 in the NFL in yards allowed.
What they don't do, and I mean ever, is force anyone's hand. Not Jake Locker or Jay Cutler or Andy Dalton or Matt Cassel or Geno Smith or certainly not Joe Flacco, the one above-average QB they've faced and a man who looked so relaxed last Sunday he might as well have been ... well, dozing off at a Joe Flacco news conference.
To date, the Steelers:
• Have eight sacks. Only the Giants have fewer, at six. The undefeated Chiefs lead with 35, and two of their guys have more individually — Justin Houston (10) and Tamba Hali (nine) — than the Steelers as a team.
• Have caused 43 yards in losses off those eight sacks, fewest in the NFL.
• Haven't recovered a blessed fumble, the only team with that distinction.
• Have two interceptions, both thrown by the rookie Smith, both dying quails. And, as Ryan Clark, beneficiary of one of those quails, points out, “Picks start with pressure up front.”
• Have begun an offensive drive in opponent's territory twice. Seriously. And only once as the result of the defense getting the ball.
I'll say it again: Nothing changes until this does.
The most dumbfounding — and maybe most depressing — facet of all this is that the Steelers really are trying.
Schematically, LeBeau is blitzing 35 percent of the time — 72 times out of 203 dropbacks — and from all over creation. He has Troy Polamalu at the line more than ever. He had Cortez Allen coming off the edge repeatedly last Sunday. Among outside linebackers, LaMarr Woodley is rushing the passer 64.9 percent of the time, Jarvis Jones 68.7 percent, Jason Worilds 65.7 percent.
One problem: No one's getting there. Most often, no one's getting close.
Personnel-wise, there aren't many excuses, either. Woodley's back to doing his part, with five of the eight sacks and fairly consistent pressure. So that whole blame-it-on-LaMarr meme is dead, as is blaming an aged James Harrison, obviously.
Jones was drafted as a “special” talent for this precise purpose, but his next NFL sack will result in a souvenir. He has been hampered by injury, to be fair, and there's still every reason to believe in the kid, but ...
“I've got to get it done,” Jones was saying this week. “I know that.”
He's hardly alone. The only other sacks have gone to Brett Keisel, Ziggy Hood and Worilds. Among other things, that means no other linebackers have contributed, that Steve McLendon was better in this regard as a backup than as Casey Hampton's replacement, that Heyward recently won starting duty in large part for his backfield penetration but still doesn't have a sack and that the entire secondary hasn't recorded a sack since ... oh, hang on, I'll look it up ... Dec. 23, 2012, by Polamalu.
Get this: There have been only two other sacks by the secondary in the past three seasons. In 2010 alone, the secondary had 8 1⁄2.
That won't cut it, to be kind.
And if this broader picture doesn't begin to sharpen on this day against this opponent, why would anyone expect it to for the foreseeable future?
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