Pittsburgh Steelers fans may be having nightmares this week after watching their team lose, not just to the Cincinnati Bengals, but to the Cincinnati Bengals in Pittsburgh, something that has only happened one other time since 2012. They are set to face arguably an even tougher team this week, but their opponents are not sleeping easily, either.
Boosted by the return of pass rushers T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith, the Steelers defense is looking to get back on track against a team that will probably be putting the ball in the air a lot more than the Bengals did on Sunday. And Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur has been seeing visions, not of sugarplums, but of linebackers, dancing in his head.
“It’s a great challenge. This is a really sound, good defense”, he told reporters about the Steelers defense earlier this week. “They’re physical. They are so disruptive. They are very opportunistic. I watched all of their sacks from the last two years, and I think I got nightmares from it”.
I’m sure that’s not the first time they have had this effect on an opponent. The Steelers have been one of the elite pass-rushing teams for the past several years, led by the rise of Watt over the course of the past three-plus years. He led the league in sacks last year, just the second Steelers ever to do that, surprisingly, in franchise history.
And it’s not just Watt, though he is the catalyst for much of what they do. Cameron Heyward continues to play at a very high level as the old man of the front, which I’m sure he’ll be thrilled to read if he happens to read this. “Heyward is all over the place”, LaFleur said of the Steelers’ longest-tenured defender. He also said that he “probably doesn’t get the credit he deserves as well. That guy’s a game wrecker”.
Highsmith is in just his second season, but he was probably the Steelers’ best defender on the field throughout the entire offseason. It is unfortunate that he had to start out his second season being dogged by a groin injury, which he has tried to soldier through, but it caused him to miss last week’s game. He was limited Wednesday and Thursday but was a full go yesterday, and was not given an injury designation, meaning he will play.
While Stephon Tuitt remains on the Reserve/Injured List with no signs of his returning to practice any time soon despite his being eligible to do so, Pittsburgh also added another pass rusher this offseason in Melvin Ingram, who was about the only player applying pressure on Sunday—even registering a hit that was wiped out because it was dubiously flagged for roughing the passer.
The question is, whose nightmare will it be tomorrow night? LaFleur and Aaron Rodgers? Or Steelers fans?