Stephon Tuitt obviously won’t play this weekend against the Baltimore Ravens. But Mike Tomlin isn’t ruling him out for the rest of the regular season. Despite just six more games on the season, five after Sunday’s bout against Baltimore, Tomlin says Tuitt could return, though he didn’t have much information on a specific timetable.
“I am not,” Tomlin said Tuesday when asked to assume that Tuitt was out for the year. “To be honest with you, I hadn’t given it a lot of thought. I don’t have a six-week perspective. I have a Raven-week perspective. He won’t be available to us this week. And so the people that have my attention are those that will be. We’ll continue to monitor his progress. And when he gets close, I’ll have an update for you guys.”
Tuitt has yet to formally practice or play all season. He reportedly underwent knee surgery early in the season and remains on IR. Outside of the occasional photo showing him running around to some degree at practice, there’s been few signs of progress. At training camp, Tuitt never practiced with the team but would occasionally go through bag drills on the side, usually alongside T.J. Watt during his summer “hold-in.” Tuitt also grieved the death of his brother, killed in a hit-and-run during the offseason.
Defensive line injuries to Tuitt and nose tackle Tyson Alualu have dramatically changed the Steelers’ defense. With those two, they were among football’s best at stopping the run. Without them this season, Pittsburgh carries the 31st-ranked run defense into Sunday’s game against Baltimore, an opponent who routinely puts up 150+ yards on them.
Chris Wormley has played well in Tuitt’s absence, though doesn’t bring the highs that Tuitt was capable of. Last season, Tuitt broke out for a career-high 11 sacks. Chris Wormley notched his career high on Sunday with 2.5.
The domino effect of depth-turned-starter has been the biggest issue. The challenge of Wormley going from rotational player to full-time starter, bumping up the likes of Isaiahh Loudermilk, Henry Mondeaux, and Daniel Archibong from small or non-existent roles to seeing significant playing time. The overall decreased pass rush of the Steelers’ four-man front, the inability to contain the QB, and struggles with assignment, alignment, and technique that weren’t issues when the group was healthy.
Mathematically, it is possible that Tuitt returns this year. He would almost certainly need the full 21-day window to return, considering he hasn’t practiced or played in a game since January. Even assuming he returns to practice next week, that would put a timetable of him returning for Week 17’s game against the Cleveland Browns. If he can’t return to practice by Wednesday, December 15th, then it’s incredibly difficult to see him returning at all this season, barring a playoff run. Which at this point, seems highly unlikely.