The Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense clearly missed the presence of 2021 AP Defensive Player of the Year T.J. Watt in their home opener as they were defeated 17-14 by the New England Patriots in the christening of Acrisure Stadium. The black and gold pass rush had a notable start to their year getting to Joe Burrow seven times in Week 1’s thrilling 23-20 overtime victory over the Cincinnati Bengals. On the contrary in Week 2, the pass rush failed to register a single sack on Mac Jones.
Steelers drop the home opener to the Patriots, 17-14.
Defense didn’t have a single sack. Happened twice last season – Weeks 3, 14. Offense only seemed to find rhythm in the final drive of the third quarter.
Up next: Thursday in Cleveland.
— Brooke Pryor (@bepryor) September 18, 2022
Watt Do The Steelers Do In Games Without Him
The Steelers figure to be without the 27-year-old from Wisconsin for close to six weeks, Steelers Head coach Mike Tomlin confirmed during his press conference last Thursday. Watt has now missed five games since his debut against the Cleveland Browns in Week 1 of 2017 when he registered a pair of sacks and a 17-yard interception in a 21-18 win. The Steelers moved on to 0-5, following the Week 2 loss to the Patriots, all in games without the three-time All-Pro. Pittsburgh has combined for a total of eight sacks without their 2017 first-round pick.
Tomlin’s “Next Man Up,” mantra will be tested as Malik Reed, who was acquired in a trade from the Denver Broncos, as he had 15 sacks in 47 games. Reed was the third most used linebacker against New England, registering four combined tackles and a quarterback hit in 66% of the defensive plays.
Third-year linebacker Alex Highsmith opened the season with a three-sack performance in the opener against the Bengals, doubling his previous game record. The 24-year-old out of Charlotte struggled to have the same kind of impact without Watt’s pressure from the other side in Week 2 against the Patriots. There, he registered just six tackles and one each of a tackle for loss and quarterback hit. The Steelers’ third-round pick in 2020 has struggled with consistency so far as he tries to establish himself as a key contributor to the defense.
Jamir Jones is another face of the Steelers outside linebacker core. The 24-year-old was re-acquired after stints with the LA Rams and Jacksonville Jaguars and is a special teams player primarily.
Myles Jack was the most used linebacker against the Patriots, in the first absence of Watt and had 10 tackles. The free agent addition from the Jaguars is living up to the role some pictured him having when the Steelers signed him.
Elsewhere, Minkah Fitzpatrick has been doing his part to try and help carry this unit. He earned the AFC Defensive Player of the Week award for his monster game against the Bengals. He added two tackles and an interception in the loss to the Patriots.
Cameron Heyward‘s presence up front will be all the more critical with Watt out. The three-time All-Pro and team captain said the team needs to step up. Heyward getting in the backfield and supplementing some of what Watt can do will be key in the defense keeping their head above water.
In the secondary, Cameron Sutton and Ahkello Witherspoon will both be counted on to make plays. Sutton showed off his playmaking ability in game one with an interception and a pair of pass break-ups but, dropped a potential game changer against New England.
Cam Sutton holds onto that gift interception and the Steelers win the game.
— Andrew Fillipponi (@ThePoniExpress) September 18, 2022
So, SteelerNation, how do you think the team can fare without Watt? Do they have enough players that can step up in his absence to improve their poor record without him? Let us know in the comments section!