Kevin Gorman: Bud Dupree saves best play for last to stop Colts, save Steelers
Bud Dupree was called out on the Big Board by Mike Tomlin this week, as the Pittsburgh Steelers coach challenged the outside linebacker to stop the run against the Indianapolis Colts.
Tomlin needled Dupree that the Colts boasted former first-round draft picks on their offensive line, using left guard Quenton Nelson and left tackle Anthony Castonzo as motivation for a Steelers defense that has 10 first-round picks of its own.
“Mike T challenged our side the most, and Bud took that to heart,” Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward said. “All we heard all week was, ‘They’ve got ones on their side.’ And I kept telling Bud, ‘We’ve got ones on our side, too.’ ”
Dupree needs no reminder he’s a No. 1 draft pick, a designation that has come with disappointment for much of his five-year NFL career. Nor does Dupree need extra incentive, given he will be a free agent at season’s end.
“I try not to think about that all the time,” Dupree said, “but you’ve got to have it on your mind, so I try to play with my hair on fire. I’m just trying to be the best I can.”
The Indianapolis Colts learned this the hard way, as Dupree was dominant in the Steelers’ 26-24 victory on Sunday afternoon at Heinz Field. He finished with two sacks, three quarterback hits, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery on the same play and a perfectly timed tackle for a loss that altered the outcome.
That Dupree saved his best play for last saved the Steelers.
But let’s start with the strip sack.
The Colts were clinging to a three-point lead early in the third quarter and already had converted a fourth-and-2 on the opening drive of the second half when they went for it on fourth-and-4 at the Steelers’ 35. Before Colts backup quarterback Brian Hoyer could throw, Dupree clipped his right arm to pop the ball loose and recovered it. The Steelers followed with an 11-play, 54-yard scoring drive to take a 20-16 lead, their first of the game.
That’s the type of pass-rushing ability NFL teams covet and the reason the Steelers picked up his fifth-year option for $9.23 million. It’s the kind of play that will get Dupree a fat contract, which prompted Heyward to predict Dupree is “going to make a lot of money in this offseason.”
The Steelers aren’t sure what’s worse: that Dupree never quite lived up to his billing as a pass-rushing force until this season — when his six sacks through eight games already match his career high — or that he has become almost unstoppable this season heading into free agency.
“So many Steelers fans gave Bud so much crap, and I just watched a guy put his head down and fight through injuries…,” Steelers inside linebacker Vince Williams said, a reference to Dupree playing through a torn pectoral muscle last season. “There’s talk about how he never hit double-digit sacks, but the amount of pressure that he puts on to close out the running game is unbelievable — and he’s always been that guy.
“I’m just happy he’s finally starting to get the credit he deserves because the man has been a War Daddy for a while.”
What Heyward has noticed is how Dupree has matured to become a complete player, though one overshadowed by T.J. Watt on the opposite side. The speed is evident on Dupree’s sacks, Heyward said, but his stout play against the run is a hidden quality that often goes unnoticed.
At least, it was until Dupree smashed Marlon Mack.
The Colts had a third-and-1 at the 22 with 1 minute, 20 seconds left in the fourth quarter, a yard shy of a first down and in field-goal range for Adam Vinatieri to kick a chip shot for the 30th winner of his illustrious 24-year NFL career.
That’s when Dupree blew up the game.
The Colts made their first mistake when they lined up two tight ends across from Dupree. Williams couldn’t have been more blunt about that tactical error: “No tight end is going to block that guy.” And Williams couldn’t have been more correct.
Dupree bull-rushed through Mo Alie-Cox and blew past Jack Doyle, lunging to wrap Mack around the legs and whipping him to the ground for a 3-yard loss. Vinatieri, who already had an extra point blocked, missed the 43-yard field goal wide to the left.
What was sweeter came when Dupree returned to the Steelers sideline, where he was greeted with hugs from defensive coordinator Keith Butler and Tomlin. If he had to choose, Dupree would take that stop over the sack.
“I think that last one was better,” Dupree said, “but everybody wants to get sacks. Sacks are always the No. 1 priority. But at the end of the game like that — that was a statement.
“When coaches come hug you, you know it’s a big play.”
The biggest of the day for Dupree, who answered Tomlin’s challenge by showing the Steelers he’s worthy of a one.
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Kevin by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .