When the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense hits the field on Sunday night inside Sofi Stadium against the Los Angeles Chargers in front of a national audience, it will be without at least three key starters in safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, outside linebacker T.J. Watt and cornerback Joe Haden.
No excuses will be made though by the Steelers or anyone else on the defense, as the “next man up” mentality is in full effect under head coach Mike Tomlin. That message reverberates with second-year pass rusher Alex Highsmith, who said the Steelers are looking forward to the challenge of Sunday’s matchup against the Chargers.
Speaking with reporters Friday prior to departing for Los Angeles, Highsmith addressed the injury issues defensively and discussed the “next man up” mentality.
“I don’t know the situation right now, but you know, I hope that we’re able to have all the guys that we can have,” Highsmith said Friday to reporters, according to video via Steelers.com. “And so, no matter who’s in there that think that’s something that Coach Tomlin always preaches about this team as the next man up mentality. So no matter who’s in, the standard’s the standard, so you gotta be able to come in and be able to make plays, be able to produce. So I think we definitely have challenges where, going up against a good offense and they’ve got a lot of weapons on their offense led by a great quarterback.
“It’s going to be a fun challenge for us this week. We’ve had to put together a good week of practice, and I’m really excited for the challenge ahead.”
It will certainly be a challenge for the Steelers against the No. 6 offense in the NFL, according to Football Outsiders’ Offensive DVOA, led by second-year quarterback Justin Herbert and a high-level grouping of weapons featuring receivers Keenan Allen and Mike Williams, and standout running back Austin Ekeler.
Missing arguably the league’s best pass rusher and an elite-level safety, not to mention the No. 1 cornerback on the team makes for a very difficult task on Sunday night in Los Angeles. It’s still certainly a winnable game, but the Steelers are going to need guys like reserve linebackers Taco Charlton and Derrek Tuzska to step up for Watt, along with second-year cornerback James Pierre for Haden and rookie safety Tre Norwood and veteran safeties Miles Killebrew and possibly Karl Joseph to replace Fitzpatrick.
That seems like a tall task on paper, but the standard is certainly the standard, and that’s more than just lip service in Pittsburgh under Tomlin. Don’t be surprised if the Steelers find a way to win on Sunday with a patchwork defense and young, emerging guys like Highsmith stepping up into the spotlight.