NFL teams treat the game as a business, and they generally conduct their negotiations with their players in such a manner. It only behooves the players to do the same, which is one of the reasons that there can be a stats obsession at times—because numbers get players paid, through earned bonuses and in lucrative free agent contracts.
One can easily argue that that is to the detriment of the game; statistics, though, will never tell the full story. For example, the fact that second-year edge rusher Alex Highsmith only has one and a half sacks on the season would suggest to you that he’s an ineffective pass rusher, but watching the tape would tell you another story.
He talked about the numbers versus the work earlier today following practice, when asked if he wants to have the production associated with his position, or if he’s satisfied as long as he knows that he is doing the work regardless of what the stat sheet says.
“I definitely do”, he said, “but at the end of the day, I just want to go out there and do the best that I can. I try not to let stats really get to my head. Of course I want to get as many as I can, but ultimately, I just want to know [that I can] look at myself in the mirror and say, ‘did I give everything I had to it?’. That’s just really the main thing that I’m focused on, just giving everything that I have to it”.
While Highsmith would surely like to increase his sack total, he has done well all around. He does have 39 tackles on the season, including six tackles for loss. He has not been credited with any passes defensed yet this season—but he’s also rarely asked to drop into coverage. And he has affected balls even without touching them by his pressure.
A third-round pick last year, the Charlotte product stepped into the starting lineup on a full-time basis this season, following the departure of Bud Dupree in free agency. After the Steelers also moved veteran reserve Melvin Ingram at the trade deadline, it put even more on Highsmith’s shoulders as the bookend rusher to T.J. Watt
With Watt ruled out for Sunday night’s game, however, Highsmith will be facing bigtime pressure to perform, going up against a very impressive young rookie left tackle in Rashawn Slater, who has done a great job protecting quarterback Justin Herbert.
If I were the Steelers, I would be sure to flip Highsmith to the other said as much as possible, as their other tackle, Storm Norton, quite frankly, is the weak link of that Los Angeles Chargers unit, and they can’t take full advantage of that through Taco Charlton and Derrek Tuszka.