The Pittsburgh Steelers spent very nearly all of their offseason without two of their top defensive players logging any snaps with them on the practice field, for very different reasons, about which we don’t need to go into detail.
While we must still wait at least a couple more weeks before the 2021 debut of Stephon Tuitt, however, we got our first look of the season at T.J. Watt, and let’s just say that it measured up to the price tag. Not only did he finish the game with two sacks, a forced fumble, and a big tackle for loss, he was a consistent nuisance for the Buffalo Bills, drawing multiple holding penalties and hitting quarterback Josh Allen so many times it was as if he were delivering birthday punches.
And he did all of this with about a week of practice under his belt, returning to full work on the field on Wednesday of last week, the first time that he put pads on all offseason. While he was putting in work on his own, there is no replacement for team activities, especially in pads.
But “I felt really fresh”, he told reporters after the game. “I think I kind of said that this week, I felt fresh all week. Never want to get too confident with how I felt, because I don’t know, coming into a game atmosphere and with all the hype and adrenalin that comes with it”.
He doesn’t know how he’ll feel tomorrow—perhaps a bit more sore than he would otherwise feel after most games—but the Steelers can afford to help him out more this year, thanks to their prudent decision on the eve of training camp to add veteran Melvin Ingram to the pass-rushing platoon.
With second-year Alex Highsmith stepping up into the starting lineup after Bud Dupree left in free agency, Pittsburgh has the makings of a very strong edge-rushing trio, and that means each of them don’t have to play as many snaps.
“The three-man rotation that we have with Alex and Melvin is going to be really special”, he told reporters after the game, as we wrote here earlier on in our post-game coverage. “We’re a very unselfish group. That’s why I’m looking forward to playing with both of them”.
All three of them managed to make an impact on the game, even if Watt came away with the splashiest plays, but the tape reveals that they all played at a high level, and that lessens the burden on Watt being an every-down performer if it is in the defense’s best interests to make sure he is fresh for the most critical plays of the game.