The regular season marks the culmination of an extensive investigation into who your team will be that year. By this point, you’ve gone through free agency, the draft, training camp, and the preseason. You feel good in your decisions insofar as you can create clarity without having played meaningful games. But there are still plenty of uncertainties that remain, whether at the start of the regular season or the end, and new ones continually develop over time.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: Alex Highsmith will stand out against Alejandro Villanueva.
Explanation: Even with T.J. Watt back out of the COVID-19 protocols, the pressure is still on Alex Highsmith to provide pressure for the Steelers’ pass rush. He will primarily be going up against former Steeler left tackle Alejandro Villanueva, who has struggled a lot in pass protection this season.
If you go by Pro Football Focus, Villanueva is one of the worst tackles in the league in pass protection, graded lower than both of the Steelers’ starters. He’s credited with allowing 40 pressures, including seven sacks and eight hits. Only Liam Eichenberg and Jesse Davis of the Dolphins have given up more pressures.
Villanueva, in fact, is the single-worst-graded starting tackle in the league in “True Pass Sets”, which is defined as excluding “plays with less than four rushers, play action, screens, short dropbacks and time-to-throws under two seconds”.
And Alex Highsmith is capable of playing at a high level, although he has done it more in spurts than on a consistent basis. But he has the sort of bend and explosiveness that will give Villanueva all kinds of problems—the same problems we saw in Pittsburgh.
Let’s start out with the fact that Highsmith has recorded zero sacks in eight of the 10 games in which he has played so far this season. He only has five sacks in his entire career, which includes 15 starts. He has picked it up a bit, albeit inconsistently, since the Seahawks game, but he didn’t make much of an impact last week.
Plus, Baltimore likes to run the ball plenty, if you haven’t heard, and they’ll probably be playing with the sorts of leads that encourage more rushing attempts. Highsmith might have a fine game, but it won’t be a standout performance. He hasn’t really had one yet in his career, the closest being that Seahawks game.