The Washington Football Team's defensive line, with all of its first-round talent and popular names, is expected to get sacks. Lots of them.
On Monday night in Pittsburgh, they didn't get one. Not one.
And yet, the group was awesome and put together one of its best performances of the season in one of the franchise's best wins in years.
Going into the matchup, everyone knew that Ben Roethlisberger preferred to get rid of the ball quickly. As in: Take the snap, sethisfeetandthrow quickly. That, along with his stout blockers, was a worry for the Washington side. Could the underdogs drop the Steelers if they couldn't drop Big Ben?
The answer, the NFL now knows, is yes, and it's because of how Jack Del Rio's front figured out a way to limit Roethlisberger even though they weren't consistently getting near him. They may not have gotten their hands on him, but they got their hands on his passes.
Montez Sweat led that effort, deflecting at least three Roethlisberger attempts. He happened to save his most important breakup for last:
Earlier on in the fourth, when Sweat intervened on another one of the veteran's tosses, the cameras showed he and the QB having a little conversation across the line of scrimmage. Afterward, Sweat gave the slightest of chuckles when he was asked about that interaction.
"He was a little frustrated," he said. "I could tell that in his demeanor. I knew we were getting under his skin."
Sweat wasn't alone in that cause. Daron Payne rejected one, too:
"Very proud of them," Ron Rivera said at the podium. "It was one of the things that they were talking about with the coaches, was getting our hands up, getting our hands up, getting our hands up."
Chase Young, not surprisingly, contributed to the proceedings as well. While his superb, flying fourth down tackle to cap off an epic first half goal line stand got most of the attention online, he also notched a deflection. Then there was the second quarter sequence where the rookie read a Pittsburgh play so perfectly, he forced an ineligible man downfield penalty because Roethlisberger couldn't get the ball to his first read.
Yes, the hosts still eventually scored a touchdown on that drive, but that moment highlighted just how prepared Washington's rushers were for their opponent's plan. Apparently, they learned a lot from the Steelers' previous tilt with the Ravens, and Young spoke to that in his presser.
"Schemes, certain guys' tendencies, it's a list," he said. "Certain things I feel like they do out of a different look that Baltimore executed on."
As for Pittsburgh's ground attack, it didn't find much ground. The favorites ran it just 14 times for a pathetic 21 yards. Young and Co. obviously influenced that area and essentially put all of the figurative pressure on Roethlisberger, which proved just as key as literal pressure.
In a way, Washington's defensive line encapsulates the entire defense's year overall. They, like the whole unit, entered 2020 with major expectations and then didn't meet them during a 2-7 start. Lately, however, they appear to be seriously gelling, as do the other levels of the bunch, and are finally justifying all the preseason praise.
"I know a lot of people are kind of seeing it now, but if you go back and you watch those games from early in the season, we were one, two, three plays away," Jon Bostic told reporters about his side of the ball. "We knew if we started making those plays, those plays would help us start creating more Ws for us."