The Pittsburgh Steelers' defense is a bit of an enigma. Defensive coordinator Keith Butler's unit ranks sixth in the NFL against the run (88.3 yards per game) and 11th in points per game allowed (20.0), but is giving up the 31st most pass yards per game (279.0).
Soft cornerback play and consistent blown coverages have combined to form the worst defensive season statistically in the Mike Tomlin era (367.3 yards per game allowed).
Yet, even with the poor stats versus the pass, the Steelers have gotten after the quarterback, compiling 38 sacks (fifth most in the NFL).
Facing Brock Osweiler during Sunday's pivotal matchup with the Denver Broncos, there should be plenty of chances for those totals to rise. Osweiler has been sacked 17 times this season -- 14 in four starts. By comparison, Peyton Manning was sacked just 15 times in nine games played. Osweiler has been sacked five-plus times in a game in two of his four career starts. Manning has been sacked five-plus times in a game in two of his 265 career starts.
According to Butler, some of it is on the offensive line -- which got destroyed by Khalil Mack last week -- but it's also on Osweiler.
"A little bit of both," Butler said, via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "Pulling the ball down and not being sure of where he goes with it. Obviously, Peyton knows where he's going with it all the time. This guy, sometimes he does, sometimes he doesn't.
"But he does make some good throws. He does have a good arm and he's done a good job for them. I know he's given up more sacks. That's not all his fault all the time. We have to try to do as much as we can to take advantage of him and get to the quarterback."
Butler's critique of Osweiler "not being sure of where to go with it" hits the mark. One of the biggest struggles for most young quarterbacks is getting through his progression once the first read is taken away. A porous offensive line exacerbates the situation.
If Osweiler stumbles Sunday in a tilt ripe with playoff implications for both teams, the Steelers' defense will swarm up front. However, if the young signal-caller gets the ball out quicker, the back end of the Pittsburgh defense is primed to be picked on.