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'Blitzburgh' sets franchise sack record; Steelers primed for playoffs

PITTSBURGH -- It was not lost on the millennials in the Pittsburgh Steelers' locker room Sunday what it meant to break this particular franchise’s single-season sacks record.

“New Blitzburgh, baby,” linebacker Vince Williams said. “There’s a lot of great guys that have gotten sacks on quarterbacks in this building. We’re just glad we could add to it.”

With six sacks in a regular-season-ending victory over the woeful Cleveland Browns, the 2017 Steelers finished the year with 56 -- a new standard for sacks in the history of a franchise known for its defense. Sacks have been an official NFL stat only since 1982, so it isn't entirely fair to compare this group to the Super Bowl dynasty teams of the 1970s. But there have been plenty of big-time defenses in Pittsburgh over the past 35 years, and none of them ended the season with more sacks than this group.

“Lot of great defenses have come through here and not done that,” said defensive end Cam Heyward, one of several Pittsburgh stars who had Sunday off to rest for the playoffs. “So that’s a big congratulations to everybody. It’s a collective effort, and we like it that way. Hopefully, we can get a couple more in the playoffs.”

That’s what it’s all about here at this point: the playoffs that begin for the Steelers in a couple of weeks. As the No. 2 seed in the AFC, they’ll get next weekend off and then host a playoff game at Heinz Field on Jan. 13 or Jan. 14.

When they do, they’ll come in with a defense that believes it can make the difference for a team that has leaned more on its offense in recent playoff runs. Last year at this time, the Steelers were playing without Heyward. This year, they’re without linebacker Ryan Shazier, who is dealing with a spinal injury. But the Steelers believe they have the pieces in place to make special things happen on defense once the biggest games start.

“I think we’ve got every position,” defensive tackle Javon Hargrave said. “We’ve got great DBs and a lot of guys who are just growing up right now. Artie [Burns], Sean [Davis]. You look at me, myself, I know I’ve come a long way this year. Now we’ve got Cam back, who was out last year, and then Joe Haden, too, who’s new to us this year. Just a lot of experience and a lot of people who know what it’s like.”

It’s the diversity of production that gives the defense confidence at every level. Of those 56 sacks, Heyward has 12, which leads the team and ranks among the league leaders. But 14 other Steelers have recorded at least one sack this year. They believe in each other because they’ve seen everyone chip in.

“We take a lot of pride in being able to move chess pieces in and out and around,” rookie linebacker T.J. Watt said. “Whatever’s happened, we’ve still managed to play well as a group. That’s a great feeling.”