For the bulk of the 2017 NFL season, the primary defensive end opposite Cameron Heyward this year has not been Stephon Tuitt, but rather Tyson Alualu. Tuitt, after missing Sunday’s game, has sat out three starts so far this year, but he was also limited to just two snaps after suffering an injury in the season opener that kept him out for two weeks.
While he was lucky enough to avoid a major injury from that incident and returned no worse for the wear up through last week’s victory in Kansas City—where he was quite a disruptive presence in spite of the fact that he has yet to register a sack on the season—he somewhat surprisingly was not out there this past game.
But that shouldn’t be a problem again going forward. He missed practices last week because of a back injury that crept up on him. He told Jim Wexell that it “tightened up while lifting”, and he also “assured” the reporter that he will be back in the lineup against the Lions.
Stephon Tuitt assured me he’ll be back on the field next week. Back tightened up while lifting.
— James C Wexell (@jimwexell) October 22, 2017
That is good news, because while I don’t want to insult Alualu, he is quite frankly no Stephon Tuitt. Alualu is a serviceable rotational player and spot starter, but Tuitt is a difference-making talent, frequently causing chaos on a play-to-play basis, even if he is setting up for plays to be made by others rather than making them himself.
The 24-year-old’s crazy athleticism is something that I highlighted a week ago. There was one pass rush rep in particular against the Chiefs in which he lined up wide of the left tackle and rushed as though he were an outside linebacker such that I initially mistook him for James Harrison.
The Notre Dame product is a rare specimen at his position and part of the reason that the Steelers can do so much of what they want to do when they are at their best. They have superior athletes at a number of positions that allowed them to give them assignments a player of average athleticism could not be trusted with.
Tuitt was, of course, given quite a handsome new contract just before the season started this year, and the Steelers would no doubt like to see a greater return on investment by having him stay on the field. But Cameron Heyward was also banged up early on in his new deal and has come back to play very well this year.
In three-plus games, Tuitt only has seven tackles and a batted pass, but I would like to think that our average reader understands that you cannot properly evaluate his impact on the game just by taking a gander at the stat line. Just watch the game when he is in the lineup, and you can see the difference between him and a replacement player.