It's not a prerequisite for a successful Steelers season, but it has been a pretty good indicator over the years. If the Steelers are getting to and sacking opposing quarterbacks, it usually means the team is in contention for the Super Bowl.
And when they're not, the record often plummets along with the sack totals.
In 1994, the year the Steelers lost to the Chargers in the AFC championship, they set a franchise record with 55 sacks. They matched that record in 2001 when they went 13-3 and again reached the AFC title game.
When the Steelers won the Super Bowl after the 2008 season, they led the NFL in sacks with 51. When they made a return trip two years later, they again led the league with 48.
Since then, it has been a rapid decline to rock-bottom. They fell to 17th in the league in 2011 and 15th last season. This season, they are last in the league with four sacks in the first four games.
"Early on in games, we're getting pressure," said defensive lineman Cameron Heyward. "Later on in games, because we've been down, we've been seeing a lot more runs and we're not getting the opportunities to get the sacks. That's predicated on us. We have to stop the run first and force them into some longer third downs.
"I think I was reading something where we're second-to-last [in the NFL] in having third-and-6 or longer. We have to force them into some tougher situations where they don't have as many opportunities and plays that put us in tough situations."
In 2003 and 2006, two of the four seasons the Steelers missed the playoffs in the past 12 years, they were 11th and 17th in the league in sacks. The only year the Steelers were near the top of the league in sacks and missed the playoffs in recent history is 2009 when they were second in the league.
Gay to see more time
Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said William Gay is in contention for the starting duties at cornerback against the Jets Sunday. Gay could take the place of Cortez Allen, who struggled against the Vikings in his first game back after missing two with an ankle injury.
If Gay takes Allen's place in the starting lineup, Allen would come in to play in the nickel package.
"They're all going to play," LeBeau said. "Cortez still has the ankle a little bit. [Gay] will play a lot."
Brown high on Geno
Receiver Antonio Brown might know Jets quarterback Geno Smith better than any of Smith's receivers in New York. Brown and Smith grew up in the same area in Florida and work out together in the offseason.
"He's hungry, always willing to work," Brown said. "He comes out two to three times a day [in the summer]. You can see his hard work is paying off."
Smith, a rookie second-round pick out of West Virginia, had his best game of his young career Monday night in Atlanta when he completed 16 of 20 passes for 199 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions in a 30-28 victory. That performance came after he threw eight interceptions in the first four games.
"He's a catch-and-throw kind of guy," Brown said. "The offensive line did great job of giving him time. Anytime he gets time and can make decisions, he'll make a good throw.
"I always believed in him, he believes in himself. The more and more he plays and learns and watches other guys, he'll continue to get better."
Offensive coordinator Todd Haley declined to name a starter at left tackle. Kelvin Beachum and Levi Brown have practiced with the first-team offense this week. ... Haley said he was encouraged by the debut of rookie running back Le'Veon Bell, who rushed for 57 yards and scored two touchdowns in his first NFL game against the Vikings. "It was all encouraging stuff," Haley said. "He came in and it wasn't too big for him. He had a good look in his eye. He handled everything well." ... Starting left guard Ramon Foster (pectoral injury) went through a full practice for a second consecutive day. ... Tight end Heath Miller was a limited participant at coach Mike Tomlin's discretion... Jets receiver and former Steeler Santonio Holmes (foot, hamstring) did not practice for a second consecutive day. ... Jets cornerback Dee Milliner (hamstring) and tight end Kellen Winslow (knee) also missed practice for the second day in a row.
Ray Fittipaldo: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @rayfitt1. First Published October 10, 2013 8:00 PM