As once coined by Donald Rumsfeld, there’s known knowns, unknown unknowns, and known unknowns. For Pittsburgh, they’re in the latter camp this Sunday night against the Los Angeles Chargers. The Steelers know that they don’t know if T.J. Watt or Minkah Fitzpatrick will play. If either or both sit out, they know there isn’t a lot of “known” with the full-time performance of those behind them.
Butler talked about the team’s Plan B if those two aren’t available this weekend.
“Man, we’ve got some unknowns, you know what I mean?” he told reporters via audio provided by the team. “And we’re going to have some unknowns coming into this game. Do we do we like what we see in practice? A lot of times we do, yes. But you know what happens in practice and what happens in game, sometimes it’s totally different. How do people perform under pressure? That’s what the whole NFL is about. If you can perform under pressure, then you’re going to have a job. If you can’t. You’re not Simple as that.”
His response there came centered around the backup safety play of Miles Killebrew and Karl Joseph, two men who are likely to see an increased role if Fitzpatrick can’t play.
They might not be the only ones, there’s Tre Norwood and perhaps Cam Sutton or Arthur Maulet move around more, but Killebrew and Joseph have played only a handful of defensive snaps this season. Joseph was elevated off the practice squad for only one game, logging two snaps against Denver as the team’s slot corner.
No matter what configuration the team comes up with, the Steelers are undeniably worse off without Minkah Fitzpatrick. But Butler is confident Plan B (and C and D) can play winning football.
“Obviously we do or they wouldn’t be on our team,” Butler said when asked if he had confidence in the backups. “Are they going to be as good as Minkah? Are they going to be good as TJ? There’s not too many people in the league as good as those guys are. So the guys that we have on his team, the guys that are going to be stepping up, when we play, we have a lot of confidence in them. We’re gonna let them play. We’re gonna try to do the best we can and put them in the best position that we can to give them a chance to win. And at the end of the game, we’ll see what happens.”
Hopefully that outcome is a victory to push the Steelers to 6-3-1. Every win from here on out is going to be critical in a competitive yet wide-open AFC North where any team – Pittsburgh. Baltimore, Cleveland, or Cincinnati – has a realistic shot of winning the division.
Determining that answer will likely come via inter-division play but stacking wins now against potential Wild Card teams like the Chargers would also be a big help. The AFC West is just as competitive with all four of their teams .500 or better.
For better or worse, those “unknowns” Butler describes will become “knowns” after this week.