The Pittsburgh Steelers need a lot of help if they are going to salvage anything from this season, and it has to start from within. The most immediate thing that they can do is to simply get healthy, particularly on the edge, as both of their starters were forced out of Thursday’s game.
Fortunately, there has since been good news on both fronts for T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith. In the case of the latter, we heard directly from his father, Sam, the night of the game about his status. He said in the wee hours of Friday morning that “Alex will be fine”, and he has “just a bad bruise”.
Another tough one! At least Big Ben made it interesting in the 2nd half. Thanks to all of you who have reached out. Alex will be fine. Just a bad bruise! 🙏🏽🙏🏽🙏🏽 pic.twitter.com/ftC5RBGPtB
— Sam Highsmith (@HighsmithHigh5) December 10, 2021
Much later on Friday morning, Ian Rapoport tweeted that Highsmith avoided major injury and that, while he would have further tests, “early indications are that it’s a bad contusion above the knee”. Given that we haven’t heard anything else about his status since then, that should be a good sign that the tests came back with favorable results.
#Steelers OLB Alex Highsmith, who left last night’s game early, is not believed to have suffered a major injury, source said. He’ll have more tests today, but early indications are that it’s a bad contusion above the knee.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) December 10, 2021
Now the question is, of course, whether or not he can play through that bad contusion without missing time—likewise for Watt with his own injury. Because we have seen what this defense looks like without Watt. We have seen what this defense looks like without both Watt and Highsmith. And it is not good.
There is only so much you can put in the plates of Derrek Tuszka and Taco Charlton. While Charlton is capable of delivering a quality rush from time to time, he’s not somebody who is going to give you consistent quality from rep to rep.
Highsmith hasn’t quite had the pass-rush productivity that was hoped for in his second season, sitting at three sacks in 12 games (that includes two split sacks, mind you), along with 10 quarterback hits, but he has certainly shown growth from his rookie season.
A third-round pick out of Charlotte, he replaced Bud Dupree in the starting lineup this year. After a great offseason program, however, he started off the regular season on the wrong foot, suffering a groin injury prior to the opener.
I doubt that he has ever played at 100 percent this year, truth be told, going back to that original groin injury. He has missed time in a number of games. In addition to the one full game he has missed, he has logged under 60 percent of the snaps in three others, under 70 percent in two more. He has only logged 80 percent or more in five games.
Compare that to Watt, who has played at least 80 percent of the snaps in eight games, despite missing two. The only reason that Highsmith hasn’t played the same percentage of snaps is because he hasn’t been healthy. Generally, all things being equal, he hasn’t rotated out of games notably more than has Watt. Truth be told, I don’t think we’ve gotten many glimpses of Highsmith at full capacity this season.