The Steelers want their defensive ends and outside linebackers to take their pass rush deep into the backfield Sunday in Seattle.
They just want to make sure they don’t do it too well.
Over-pursuing Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson could give him running lanes, and that could burn the defense.
“We want to rush him freely,” end Stephon Tuitt said, “but at the same time, we want to be smart with it because he can make a lot of plays with his feet.”
The Steelers pass rush has found renewed vigor this season. Only seven teams have more than their 28 sacks through 10 games. And no quarterback has been sacked more this season than Wilson (35).
But Wilson also leads the NFL in rushing yards among quarterbacks with 385.
“He’s not the type of quarterback that you can have multiple people behind him,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “Some quarterbacks you rush upfield, and at times the ends, even if it’s for a moment, are behind the quarterbacks and they retrace or work their way back.
“He’s the type of athlete and has the type of feel for the pocket that he exploits those vertical holes in a rush.”
In the past, the Steelers have had trouble with running quarterbacks.
Steelers backup quarterback Mike Vick beat Pittsburgh last season while with the New York Jets.
Jeannette native Terrelle Pryor was 3-7 as an NFL starting quarterback, but he had 106 rushing yards in beating the Steelers with the Oakland Raiders in 2013.
And the Denver Broncos’ Tim Tebow beat the Steelers during the 2011 playoffs.
“Pass rushing (against) guys like Wilson, you don’t want to retrace your steps,” linebacker Lawrence Timmons said. “When you do that, you leave vertical holes, and with a guy like that with that much speed, he can hurt you.”
Defensive line coach John Mitchell called the technique the “mush rush,” coming more straight up the middle at the quarterback rather than approaching him from the edge.
“We cannot allow him to escape down the middle of the pocket,” Tomlin said. “He is really dangerous when he does that. But at the same time, when he escapes laterally, he is one of those guys that can square his shoulders and throw an accurate pass as he is escaping laterally.”
Wilson made two Pro Bowls and two Super Bowls (winning one two seasons ago) over his first three seasons. His 12,328 career passing yards and career passer rating of 98.2 prove he’s not just a “running quarterback,” but his 2,262 rushing yards (5.9 per carry, 39.0 per game) and 11 rushing touchdowns show that added dimension.
“Honestly, in my mindset, I’m not really (ever) looking to run,” Wilson said. “It’s kind of one of those things where you play the play out and if I go through the progressions and it’s not there, I can extend the play.”
Seattle coach Pete Carroll laughed when asked whether the 5-foot-11 Wilson and the 6-5 Ben Roethlisberger are similar. But he said their ability to extend plays is a shared trait.
“(Wilson’s) pocket movement game is special,” Tomlin said. “His ability to throw on the run and his accuracy on the run is very good. We have to rush hard and smart. We have to contain him.”