One NFL team holds this unique defense record

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The topic of statistical leaders among players in the National Football League often pits fanbases against other fanbases, especially in division Stats don’t always get the weight from fans that the likeability of any certain player does. Star players usually draw the most attention, for good reason. Despite the love adorned on individuals, team statistics often get overlooked. This week we look at a unique statistical rarity that has been set by the Pittsburgh Steelers defense, alone, in the NFL.

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Steelers fans, or ‘Steeler Nation’ as the fanbase often goes by, know that T.J. Watt holds the record, currently in team history, for the number of sacks. His total career sack number is 96.5. In his career, Watt has led the league in single-season sack totals in three different seasons. And, he has more time left to add to that record.

Watt is followed, in Pittsburgh record books, by James Harrison and Cameron Heyward, who are tied with 80.5. Heyward is expected to pass Harrison before he retires from the NFL. Behind them, the only player still rostered is Alex Highsmith who currently has 29.5 career sacks.

Yes, the statistic (sacks) wasn’t recorded officially by the NFL until 1982, but only Von Miller (123.5), Cameron Jordan (117.5), Chandler Jones (112.0), Aaron Donald (111.0), Calais Campbell (105.5), and Khalil Mack (101.5) have more career sacks (among active players) than Watt, at this time.

Watt holds the distinction of being tied with NFL Hall of Famer Michael Strahan for most sacks in a single season at 22.5.

Individual career stats aren’t our focus, however, this week. There is only one NFL team to record at least 1.0 sacks in 75 consecutive regular-season games, and that record is held by the Steelers.

During the 2021 season, that streak unfortunately came to an end.

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That season they failed to improve upon their 12–4 record from 2020 and failed to win their division in back to back years for the first time since 2016–2017. Minus Maurkice Pouncey and David DeCastro, Ben Roethlisberger was playing in his final season before retiring on January 27, 2022. It was also general manager Kevin Colbert’s final year. Matt Feiler, Bud Dupree, Mike Hilton, Ola Adeniyi, Sean Davis, James Connor, and Alejandro Villanueva moved on to other teams through free agency.

That same year, the Steelers selected just four players in the NFL Draft on the defensive side of the ball: Quincy Roche, Buddy Johnson, Tre Norwood, and Isaiahh Loudermilk.  They parted ways with Steven Nelson, Trevor Williams, and John Battle who’d been a part of their defensive backfield.

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Without going into a full season breakdown, fans watched the team fall apart several times, with the longest stretch of poor play being early in the season. The Steelers (9-7-1, 2nd in the AFC North) made it to the playoffs to be knocked out of contention by the Kansas City Chiefs during the Wild Card Round.

The team’s final defense placement (regular season) was as follows:

  • Passing defense – 9th in NFL
  • Rushing defense – 32nd in NFL
  • Total defense – 24th in NFL

And, then, the rebuild began in earnest during the off-season.

During the 2022 season, the Steelers tied for fourth place, all time, with six consecutive seasons of 40+ sacks (2017-2022). The franchise has had that same streak twice since the stat became officially recorded. They also hit the mark from 1993-1998.

It will be interesting to see which NFL team next reaches that 75 consecutive games with at least 1.0 sacks mark. It may end up being a record that stands for awhile. Could it be Pittsburgh again? Or will another team make the summit?

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