By Gerry Dulac, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The Steelers don't need a flashing green light to instruct their linebackers to chase Cleveland Browns quarterback Charlie Frye. The signal was already flashed when the defensive players saw the amount of times Frye has been sacked this season. Or the amount of turnovers he has committed because, in all likelihood, of the pressure.
Not that members of the Steelers' defense have been spending large amounts of time in an opponent's backfield lately. Or that their sack totals are equal to the amount of turnovers they have committed this season.
But, when the people entrusted with chasing the quarterback saw that Frye has been sacked 34 times -- a pace dubious enough to chase Tim Couch's franchise record of 54 -- it was almost as though they received a floral-embossed invitation to spend some time in the Browns' backfield.
"It lets us know it's out there for us," said inside linebacker James Farrior. "We're definitely aware of the situation. But we still have to go out and execute."
Frye, a second-year quarterback from Akron University, has spent an inordinate amount of time on his back this season, an occupational hazard the Browns didn't think would exist with an experienced offensive line. But there he is, after nine games, running second to Oakland's Andrew Walter among NFL quarterbacks who have been sacked the most.
On top of that, Frye has thrown 12 interceptions and lost five fumbles, giving him an easy lead in the turnover race with Ben Roethlisberger, who has committed 15 turnovers (14 interceptions, one fumble) in a season fraught with frustration, bewilderment and, of course, mistakes.
The Steelers (3-6) believe Frye's mistakes are a result of quarterback pressure, which is why they just might rachet the heat Sunday when they play the Browns (3-6) in Cleveland.
"That's the best therapy for us -- sacking the quarterback," said outside linebacker Joey Porter. "I know a quarterback can't make the perfect throw he wants to if he has me and Clark [Haggans] and Aaron Smith and [Brett] Keisel in his face or hanging on him while he's trying to throw the ball. We put it on the guys who rush the quarterback. It's our job to try and get to the quarterback and make him more frustrated."
That, though, hasn't been happening with much regularity.
The Steelers have 10 sacks in their past five games, and six of those came against the defenseless Walter, who must feel like a hockey goalie. In the past two games, they have managed one sack each against Jake Plummer of Denver and Drew Brees of New Orleans, who combined to throw for 625 yards and four touchdowns against them.
What's more, the players the Steelers rely on to create pressure and register sacks -- Porter and outside linebacker Haggans, who led all NFL linebacker tandems in sacks in 2005 -- have done little to threaten a repeat of that achievement.
Haggans leads the team with 4.5 sacks, but he has just 1.5 in the past five games (against Oakland). Porter has four sacks -- two each in games against Miami and Oakland (of course) -- but none in the past two games.
More disturbing is that Haggans (3) and Porter (2) have combined for only five quarterback pressures, a total that trails defensive ends Keisel (15) and Smith (11) and is one more than the seldom-used Travis Kirschke (4).
"As a pass-rusher, you always want to get sacks," said Porter, who led all NFL linebackers in sacks with 11.5 last season. "You want to help the defensive backs. It's not the first time we went without getting a sack. I try to tell the guys all the time they come in bunches. You go get one or two here, and then you have a game where you have seven or eight as a team.
"Sometimes, guys block it up and sometimes we're just beating people. We definitely look for that time to start beating people and getting some sacks."
The Steelers have 24 sacks after nine games -- that's on pace for 43 this season -- but the pressure is not coming from the usual spots. Farrior said some recent opponents have tried to combat the Steelers' zone blitzes by using a running back and sometimes a tight end to help with max protection.
In addition, he said, quarterbacks such as Plummer and Brees throw on three-step drops, making it difficult to get to the quarterback.
"There's not a whole lot you can do when they're max-protecting or taking three-step drops because most of the time you're not going to be able to get there," Farrior said. "It's going to be hard. So, we'll disguise our coverages, make it look like we're coming and then drop back, or we just might come with more than they can block."
Inside linebacker Larry Foote, who already has tied his career high with three sacks, said the Steelers have not been blitzing as much because of that.
"Teams are starting to keep everyone in to calm down our pressure," Foote said. "We haven't been blitzing as much because teams are just throwing the ball up. They're not giving us a chance to get there. But, if the quarterback stays back there, we're going to get to him."