He called him out and challenged him all week ahead of the Steelers’ 26-24 win against the Indianapolis Colts.
It didn’t matter how good the fifth-year linebacker had been against the run all season. The Indianapolis Colts were going to run it to the left all afternoon. He had to be ready.
When it really counted, he was.
Matched up with a tight end on the edge as the Colts called a run play on third-and-1 with a minute left, Dupree blew by his man and made a beeline for running back Marlon Mack. He wrangled the running back down by his waist for a 3-yard loss and high-stepped away from him as the crowd roared.
“I just saw the tight end on me,” Dupree said, “and I just take pride in not letting the tight ends block me.”
A tackle for loss might not look quite as sexy as a sack in the stat line, but to Dupree, that play felt better than either of his sacks earlier in the day.
“Everybody want to get sacks," he said. "Sacks is always the No. 1 priority, but end of the game like that, it was a statement.
“When coaches come hug you, you know it’s a big play.”
A play later, the Colts attempted a 43-yard field goal that went wide left to seal the Steelers’ victory.
In a game that moved the Steelers to 4-4 after a dismal 0-3 start to the season, Dupree was a difference-maker -- something he has been consistently this season.
With his two-sack performance Sunday afternoon, Dupree is up to six on the season, tying the career high he set in 2017. He has nine QB hits and two forced fumbles. In the first quarter, Dupree dropped Colts quarterback Jacoby Brissett for a 4-yard loss. Two quarters later, he strip-sacked backup QB Brian Hoyer on fourth-and-4 and recovered the fumble for one of three Steelers takeaways.
“Bud is balling,” fellow outside linebacker T.J. Watt said. “I said it last week, and I see the way that he approaches watching film and practice, and you just have a feeling when you’re playing. It seems like every week for me and Bud and this whole defense, we all just have feelings that it’s going to be a great game."
Dupree was on a similar pace a season ago, recording 4.5 sacks through Week 9 after he and Watt switched sides in the offseason. Each moved to their natural side: Dupree to the left and Watt to the right. Since making the move, the pair have combined for 32 sacks.
“T.J., we feed off of each other,” Dupree said.
“It’s great to be on the other side of a player like that. T.J. draws a lot of attention, too. So I thought I was going to get a lot of one-on-ones the whole season, but it didn’t work like that. So whenever we get one-on-ones, I try to create havoc.”
Dupree finished last season with 5.5 sacks, but he could’ve had more. Hampered by a torn pectoral muscle suffered in Week 11, Dupree’s production slowed down significantly in the final quarter of the 2018 season. He had just one more sack the rest of the season. It was a disappointing end for the former first-rounder, especially as he was in the midst of shaking off critics who wanted to label him a bust after an unproductive first three seasons.
But the Steelers saw enough promise in him to pick up his fifth-year option in April 2018 after a solid 2017 season and fully guarantee his $9.2 million salary in March.
On the verge of free agency, he’s playing for an even bigger payday in the offseason.
“Just knowing,” he said, pausing to collect his emotions, “try not to think about it all the time. But at the same time, you’ve got to have it on your mind so you can go out there and play with a little bit more hair on fire. I’m just trying to be the best I can.”
Now healed from last year’s injury and playing with a fiery drive, Dupree is creating a terrifying tandem with Watt. He’s playing with the kind of renewed energy that comes from knowing there’s a lot on the line.
“I know what’s at stake for me,” Dupree said. “Also, I know what’s at stake for the team. So Ben [Roethlisberger] going down, we had to put that much more energy and effort on defense.
“They bringing more first-rounders in. It’s putting more pressure on the defense to play. No one wants to do bad when you have so many good players on one side of the ball. We all come together as a unit, and we all just try to make plays.”