The Pittsburgh Steelers had arguably the best pass-rushing duo in the entirety of the NFL over the past two seasons. Yes, first-team All-Pro T.J. Watt carried a lot of the water for that duo, but veteran Bud Dupree was holding his own. He had nearly 20 sacks of his own since the start of the 2019 season, in spite of the fact that he went down a few games ago.
Needless to say, even with rookie Alex Highsmith stepping into the lineup and so far doing a solid job of holding his own, a greater burden has fallen on Watt’s shoulders, particularly in terms of how offenses choose to play him.
Even he admitted that he has seen teams throw more obstacles his ways since Dupree went down, with Highsmith yet to prove himself on tape to offensive coordinators and game planners. “I think you notice a little bit more of the shifts in the help, but you’ve just got to find ways around it and watch more film and practice those situations more”, he told reporters on Friday.
Watt did register one sack against the Washington Football Team a couple of weeks ago, though he was held without one this past week against the Buffalo Bills. He is credited with registering six hits on the quarterback during that span, so opposing offenses haven’t necessarily bottled him up without the threat of Dupree on the other side.
Either way, it’s likely something that he will have to get used to, because Dupree will probably be finding a new home in free agency in 2021 as an unrestricted free agent who played this year under the franchise tag already. The previous season was held under the fifth-year option.
The Steelers have enjoyed an explosive and dynamic pass rush with quality bookend pass rushers, reminiscent of the heydays of James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley. While Watt figures to be in the picture for the long term, they are hoping that Highsmith can quickly develop into a fair match.
The Cincinnati Bengals are the next team on the agenda, and they are the only team who had to face the Steelers with Dupree and now get to face them without, at least until Pittsburgh has a rematch against the Cleveland Browns in the finale.
It will be interesting to see how the Bengals adjust their approach in the pass protection scheme knowing that Dupree won’t be out there. Will they commit heavily to defending Watt? It’s also worth reminding that they didn’t have either of their starting tackles the last time around.