Heading into the Week 1 matchup against the Buffalo Bills at Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park, the Pittsburgh Steelers, head coach Mike Tomlin and defensive coordinator/outside linebackers coach Keith Butler had a plan of attack on how to rotate T.J. Watt, Alex Highsmith and Melvin Ingram in and out throughout the game.
While the rotation will be needed throughout the season to keep all three guys fresh, productive and (let’s be honest here) happy, the Week 1 rotation had to happen largely due to Watt sitting out much of the off-season during his contract negotiations, while Highsmith was entering the Week 1 game dealing with a groin injury.
Knowing that, when looking back on the performance in Week 1 from the trio, Tomlin stated during his 84 Lumber Presents the Mike Tomlin Show Saturday that the Steelers did a great job sticking to the script when it came to the outside linebacker rotation against the Bills.
“You know, definitely, we’re excited about the group. We’ve got three starters at that position,” Tomlin said during his show, according to the Steelers’ YouTube. “It allows us to rotate them and keep them all fresh and active. It was doubly important against Buffalo because TJ and missed a significant amount of work, and Alex had missed some work as well with a minor injury. And so going into the game, we knew that it was extremely important that we stick to that script and play all three guys and all three guys stayed fresh and delivered the type of splash that we expect from that position. We’re an outside linebacker football team, outside linebacker defense; always have been. And so those guys embraced the responsibility of being catalysts for us.”
The plan moving forward throughout the 2021 season is to continue to rotate all three standout pass rushers, keeping all three fresh for when it counts the most: Late in the season when the Steelers are hopefully pushing for a playoff spot and eyeing a deep run in the postseason.
For that to happen, the outside linebackers will have to continue to be catalysts on a defense that will likely have to carry the load for the Steelers throughout the season as the offense works in a number of young, new starters along the offensive line and in the backfield while working under a new offensive coordinator in Matt Canada. We’ll see how that outside linebacker rotation looks on Sunday against the Las Vegas Raiders at Heinz Field, but expect more of the same from Watt, Highsmith and Ingram in front of the home crowd.