The Pittsburgh Steelers put the pads on to open Wednesday’s practice, leading into a big divisional game against the Cincinnati Bengals. It worked once last week when they sported the armor heading into Sunday’s victory over the Atlanta Falcons. It worked so well, they are hoping that it continues a theme.
“Last week we did a good job, we were in pads early on”, T.J. Watt told the gathered reporters in the locker room yesterday, according to the team’s website. “We were in pads early on this week. We have a good structure that we’re just going to try to carry over in to the following weeks”.
Nobody seemingly benefitted from the padded practice opportunity more than he did, coming off of arguably his best game as a professional. In addition to recording three sacks, one of which produced a fumble that was recorded for a touchdown, he finished with eight total tackles, including a couple that went for a loss.
“In the NFL, when you don’t get to go in pads each and every day like you do in college, you can kind of get lulled to sleep”, the second-year outside linebacker admitted. “And then that allows you to get lulled to sleep in the game plan and it kind of trickles down”.
In contrast, he said, getting the opportunity to work in pads “sets the tone for the whole week”, adding, “I wish we had more padded practices”. Of course, the Collective Bargaining Agreement only allows so many padded practices during the season, and issue that may well be revisited in the next round of negotiations.
One thing that was evident is that there were fewer missed tackles on defense for the Steelers last game than there normally have been of late. With a second week of pads on Wednesday in a row, one can only hope that that trend continues.
Padded practices are a finite resource, so they have to be employed strategically throughout the course of a season. You can’t use them too early and wear your players down, or not have them for later. If you spare them for late in the season, it may be too late to enjoy the benefits.
Whatever the practicalities of the situation, it is the reality that every NFL team faces in equal measure, so there are no disadvantages in terms of sides. The Steelers simply have to do better in utilizing this resource.
Heading into a potential 1-3-1 hole to start the season, it seemed wise to break out the pads heading into Sunday’s game, and the defense responded by allowing only 17 points, a season-low. Now, with a big divisional game on deck and a bye week to follow, it seems an appropriate encore.