With the Season on the Line, Steelers Need Pass Rush More Than Ever

Dan Snyder@@dsnyder34Correspondent IDecember 15, 2012

PITTSBURGH - OCTOBER 25: James Harrison #92 and LaMarr Woodley #56 of the Pittsburgh Steelers celebrate Harrison's sack on Brett Favre #4 of the Minnesota Vikings at Heinz Field on October 25, 2009 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Pittsburgh won 27-17. (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)
Rick Stewart/Getty Images

Since the early '70s, the Pittsburgh Steelers have been known for their rough-and-tough style of defense, punishing opposing NFL offenses wherever they play.

In the early '90s under defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, the Steelers became known for their elite pass rush with the adaption of the 3-4 defense. 

That mantra has stuck with Pittsburgh for the last two decades, and the Steelers remain one of the most feared pass-rushing teams in the NFL. But that might all be because of name alone. 

Over the last two seasons, the Steelers have seen a significant drop in their number of sacks. Last season, Pittsburgh's pass rush ranked among the middle of the pack in terms of team sacks, accumulating 35 in 16 regular-season games. 

This season, it's gotten even worse. 

Through 13 games in 2012, the Steelers have brought down the opposing quarterback just 26 times, ranking them 23rd in the league (behind teams like the Panthers, Browns and Cardinals). 

Jason Worilds, not LaMarr Woodley or James Harrison, leads the team in sacks with five on the season, much of which can be attributed to injury.

Woodley, who missed six games last season with a hamstring injury, has started 10 of 12 games this season. He has really only played in about eight full contests due to various injuries and has four sacks in 2012.

James Harrison is another story altogether.

Entering the offseason, both he and the Steelers knew he was suffering a knee ailment, but they put off surgery thinking it would heal. It didn't, and Harrison ended up having surgery late, forcing him to miss the first two games of 2012.

Harrison, who also missed five games last season, may have played in the last 10 games for Pittsburgh, but he hasn't made much of an impact. He has totaled just four sacks and forced one fumble, both career lows since becoming a starter in 2007.

But it's not just important that the Steelers regain their pass rush just for the sake of getting better defensively. With Ike Taylor slated to miss at least this week's game against Dallas, Pittsburgh needs to cover up a big hole in the secondary.

Take last week's debacle against the Chargers as an example.

San Diego entered the game in Heinz Field with just four wins on the season and plugging in three replacement offensive linemen. Quarterback Philip Rivers had been struggling all season, and the Chargers could barely keep him upright. 

The result: The Steelers tallied just one sack and allowed the Chargers to convert 12 of their 22 third-down opportunities en route to a 34-24 disappointing loss in Pittsburgh. 

Dallas' offensive line has been notoriously bad the last few seasons, with 2012 being no exception. The Cowboys have let up 31 sacks this season, and it should be a lot more considering Tony Romo's knack for escaping pressure. 

With Woodley returning to the lineup and Harrison looking heather and healthier every week, the Steelers need to unleash the pass rush that got them to two Super Bowls and brought home a Lombardi Trophy under Mike Tomlin

Because if this defense can't put the heat on Romo and Co., well, let's just say even a nine-fingered Dez Bryant probably beats Curtis Brown. And that's not good for the Steelers or their playoff chances.