Week 2 was a horrendous week for injuries for the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense. Shortly before the game, starting middle linebacker Devin Bush and No. 1 corner Joe Haden were ruled out for the team’s contest against the Las Vegas Raiders. And then during the game, another pair of hits came. First, Tyson Alualu went down early in the game. Then the haymaker landed when T.J. Watt left the game and did not return, also in the first half.
Four injuries. Four of the Steelers’ top defenders unable to suit up or leaving early in the team’s game, affecting all three levels of the defense. A worst-case scenario for the team to try to adjust to with little or no notice, but not an excuse for the team to hide behind, according to one of the team’s best couple defenders on-field both before and after the injuries to Alualu and Watt.
“To me, it don’t matter. It’s football, it’s part of the game. People get injured, people get hurt. Before the game, five minutes before the game, you know what I’m saying? We found out Joe [Haden] wasn’t going to be playing for us. But that’s part of the game,” Steeler safety Minkah Fitzpatrick said. “We got to go out there and play ball. You can’t be worried about who’s out there. We all play in practice throughout the week, and we all got to go out there and execute.”
Before he left the game, Watt had a sack and forced a fumble on Raiders’ quarterback Derek Carr. But aside from him and with him gone from the field, the Pittsburgh pass rush did not provide as much disruption as has become the recent standard. Only Melvin Ingram brought down Carr for another sack, and he (three times) and Jamir Jones were the only ones to deliver a hit to Carr.
With the added time and against a secondary missing its best corner, Carr hit for 382 yards passing, finding four different players for five receptions each, going for 113 to Henry Ruggs III, and getting at least 40 yards to four other players — two receivers (Bryan Edwards, Hunter Renfrow), a tight end (Darren Waller), and a running back (Kenyan Drake).
In some areas, the Steelers were fine. Joe Schobert stepped in and played well in blue of Bush as his running mate, and the Steeler defense was an unyielding against the run post-injury to two of its starters as it was before the absences, giving up only 52 yards total for an average of 2.1 yards per carry.
In others, the injuries hurt. Speedy recoveries to all involved would be invaluable, and remain possible for all but one of the four starters out or leaving Sunday’s game. That starter lost is Alualu, who is reported out for the season with an ankle injury.
But Fitzpatrick is clear that the injuries were not an excuse for the team’s performance, and whoever is out there for Week 3 against the Cincinnati Bengals next Sunday is expected to step in and perform like a starter should.
“It didn’t really change too much of how we played. We went out there and we expect guys, whether they’ve been here for three days or for three years, to play at a high level. That was what happened to me when I came in, Week 3, I had the playbook for three days and then I was expected to start and play at a high level. So whoever’s out there, they’re expected to do the same,” Fitzpatrick said.