He was playing the vast majority of the snaps and being asked to not only rush the passer, but also to do the dirty work of setting the edge.
But Kruger is more in his comfort zone now. And it’s showing on the field.
Kruger played just 56 percent of the snaps Sunday in Pittsburgh, but was disruptive with a sack, pass deflection, three quarterback hits and five hurries. He got the defense’s highest grade from ProFootballFocus, and at times schooled rookie offensive tackle Mike Adams.
Kruger now has three sacks in the past two games, and has taken over the team lead with 4.5 sacks on the season.
“It’s where I feel comfortable,” Kruger said of his current role. “Guys are getting comfortable with the scheme and coaches are kind of figuring out the personnel.”
Since then, Kruger has shifted more back into the role he had last year as an edge pass rusher. It served him well then, as he posted a breakout 5.5-sack season. He’s on pace for eight sacks this year.
“He’s played great,” Head Coach John Harbaugh said. “I think last night was the epitome of that. The pressure he got on the quarterback, the quarterback hits … he’s mad at himself that he didn’t get a couple more sacks.”
Kruger didn’t give himself much of the credit for his recent surge. He instead spoke of the coaches and the defense’s overall improvement for putting him in the right situation.
“At the beginning of the season, we were still figuring out our team, and our personnel, and our defense,” Kruger said. “I feel confident with our defense now. Things are kind of gelling together the way they should.”
Kruger used a variety of speed moves against the 6-foot-7, 323-pound Adams and lined up both in an upright stance and sometimes with his hand in the dirt. Pittsburgh began double-teaming him more as the game went on.
Facing a third-and-10 on Pittsburgh’s third drive of the game, Kruger exploded off the left side of the line and turned the corner to sack Leftwich. Kruger nearly sacked Leftwich again in another third-and-10 situation. The second time, he leapt at the ball and tipped the ball as it came out of Leftwich’s hand.
“I just think we’re getting ourselves in the right down and distances,” Kruger said. “It allows you to let loose a little bit and get after them. That’s kind of what I’ve been able to focus on the past couple years and it’s turning out well.”