The Pittsburgh Steelers quickly went from one of the best pass-rushing fronts in the NFL to one of the worst, or so it seemed, after first-team All-Pro edge rusher T.J. Watt went down with a groin injury, causing him to miss the past game and a half.
The defense hardly put any pressure on Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow last week—but he also didn’t drop back to pass very much at all, and when he did, he didn’t waste much time. That’s why defensive lineman Cameron Heyward remains confident they can get after the passer no matter who is back there, and believes they were capable of better on Sunday, with Watt and Alex Highsmith out.
“We have other guys that are able to step up. I won’t take anything away from T.J. or Alex, but when we’re out there. We still feel like we have a chance”, he told reporters earlier today. Obviously Melvin Ingram is the chief name there, but they also have Derrek Tuszka, and at least before he was claimed off waivers, had Jamir Jones.
“It’s not fair to ask that, but it’s fair to win the game”, Heyward said when asked if they could expect a guy like Jones or Tuszka to come in and replace a T.J. Watt. “It’s fair to be the best person that you can be on Sunday. We’re not asking anybody to replicate what somebody else does, but we’re asking them to just help us get a W”.
There isn’t another T.J. Watt in the NFL right now, so that’s not a task that can be asked of anybody. But only one team has him, and yet the other 31 teams manage to generate pressure, so the Steelers understand it’s their job to do so no matter who they have on hand. And Heyward understands they didn’t have many chances this past week.
“A lot of times, they were just throwing quick, or just running the ball”, he said of the Bengals. “You look at that last sequence of plays in the first half where it goes from 7-7 to 14-7, that creates a culture in the second half where, hey, we got a lead, let’s just run it and not put our quarterback in harm’s way”.
The Steelers have spent far too much time trailing already this season, which is of course as much or more on the offense as it is on the defense. It’s not as though opponents have been stacking up obscene scores, but consistently playing without a lead, and often trailing, is not conducive to success, especially if they are able to run the ball.
It doesn’t get easier with the Green Bay Packers and Aaron Rodgers on deck, but they could potentially have all or part of their pass-rush combo back. T.J. Watt practiced fully today, and Highsmith was a limited participant for the first time since week two.