You'll find little argument when discussing the NFL's best duo of pass rushers, a title that is owned by Steelers linebackers T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith. The big question is where Watt and Highsmith rank among the Steelers' all-time pass rush duos.
The duo showed off in front of a prime time audience in Week 2. Highsmith kicked things off with a pick-six of Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson on the first play. Watt sealed the Steelers' 26-22 win over Cleveland with his fumble recovery of Highsmith's strip-sack of Watson.
Highsmith, who turns 26 in August, is coming off a breakout 2022 campaign that saw him register 14.5 sacks, 15 tackles for loss and a league-best five forced fumbles. Highsmith's production last season was more impressive considering that a large portion of it was done with fellow pass rusher T.J. Watt sidelined with an injury. Watt, despite the injury, earned his fifth consecutive Pro Bowl appearance one year after being named Defensive Player of the Year in 2021 after tying Michael Strahan's NFL single-season record of 22.5 sacks.
By extending Highsmith this summer, the Steelers have locked up both of their starting pass rushers for the foreseeable future. Highsmith is now signed through the 2028 season, while Watt's current deal (which was inked two summers ago) runs through the 2025 campaign. During that time, the duo will have the opportunity to climb up the following list of the best pass-rushing duos in Steelers history, a list that includes several Hall of Fame caliber players.
1. Greg Lloyd and Kevin Greene (1993-95)
Lloyd and Greene were the anchor of the Steelers' famed 1990s "Blitzburgh" defense. During their three seasons together, the Steelers boasted one of the NFL's top defenses that spearheaded Pittsburgh to consecutive AFC Central division titles, back-to-back AFC Championship game appearances and a near upset of the heavily favored Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl XXX.
The intimidating Lloyd was named an All-Pro during each of his three seasons playing alongside Greene. He also led the NFL in forced fumbles twice during that span. Greene, a 2016 Hall of Fame inductee, was named to two Pro Bowls and earned All-Pro honors in 1994 after leading the NFL with 14 sacks while playing with Lloyd, who would also be in the Hall of Fame if not for a career-altering injury he suffered at the start of the '96 season.
This day in #PGHistory: “Blitzburgh” is born. (1993)— Pittsburgh Clothing Company (@PGHClothingCo) April 4, 2018
During the first year of NFL free agency, the Steelers sign free agent linebacker Kevin Greene, who would join an already-stellar linebacking crew of Greg Lloyd, Chad Brown, and Levon Kirkland. pic.twitter.com/kS4Izq2HMp
2. James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley (2007-13)
There wasn't a better pass-rushing duo in the NFL during late 2000s/early 2010s. From 2008-11, Harrison and Woodley combined to record 88.5 sacks in the regular season and an additional 16 sacks in the postseason. Woodley tallied 11 playoff sacks during that span, including six sacks during Pittsburgh's 2008 playoff run that culminated with his game-clinching strip-sack of Kurt Warner at the end of Super Bowl XLIII. Harrison, the league's Defensive Player of the Year that season, made history earlier that night when he recorded the longest pick-six in Super Bowl history.
3. L.C. Greenwood and Dwight White (1971-80)
More recent Steelers defenses have leaned on their outside backers to provide a pass rush, but in the 1970s, that task was placed on defensive ends Greenwood and White. Half of the Steelers' famed "Steel Curtain" defensive line (Joe Greene and Ernie Holmes made up the other half), White and Greenwood were integral forces on each of Pittsburgh's four Super Bowl wins during the '70s.
White, despite losing nearly 20 pounds with pneumonia, played and recorded the first safety in Super Bowl history during Pittsburgh's win over the Vikings in Super Bowl IX. Greenwood deflected three of Fran Tarkenton's passes that day as the Steelers' defense shut out the Vikings' offense. A year later, the duo sacked Roger Staubach a combined six times in Pittsburgh's Super Bowl X win over Dallas.
4. T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith (2020-present)
This duo earned this spot after their dominant showing in Week 2. In that game, Watt broke James Harrison's franchise sack record by collecting his 81.5th career sack. Assuming both players stay healthy, it's feasible to expect that Watt and Highsmith will break Harrison and Woodley's record of most combined sacks by Steelers teammates in a single season. The number to beat is 27.5 sacks, which Harrison and Woodley combined to record during the Steelers' most recent championship season (2008).
5. Joey Porter and Jason Gildon (1999-03)
Many forget that Porter and Gildon played together during vastly different times in both players' careers. Porter was just beginning his career when Gildon was in the middle of his prime after spending several years playing behind Lloyd and Greene.
During their five seasons together, Porter and Gildon combined for 74.5 quarterback sacks. They had a combined 23.5 sacks in 2000 while leading a Steelers defense that recorded two shutouts and allowed just 18 points over a five-game span. The duo had a combined 21 sacks the following season to help lead Pittsburgh to within a game of the Super Bowl.
Gildon left the Steelers as the franchise's all-time sack leader. Porter later served as one of the key players in Pittsburgh's 2005 Super Bowl run.