Seven sacks in Week 1. Zero sacks in Week 2. That’s the value of T.J. Watt. And the Pittsburgh Steelers felt not having him on the field in Sunday afternoon’s loss to the New England Patriots. Speaking with reporters after the game, Minkah Fitzpatrick admitted the obvious. This defense misses Watt.
“I don’t think we had a sack today. T.J. is a great player for us,” he told reporters after the game via a team transcript. “He’s obviously one of the best rushing up the edge, and he’s a good player. But we have the next-man-up mentality, but obviously we miss him out there.”
Pittsburgh threw everything on the wall in the hopes of generating pressure. The only things that got stuck were Steelers’ pass rushers to Patriots’ blocks. Mac Jones won’t need to wash his jersey after today, not sacked once and hit only three times. He consistently had clean pockets to work from all day, including on his critical 44-yard touchdown to WR Nelson Agholor right before the half.
Malik Reed didn’t get it done. Jamir Jones didn’t get it done. Blitzing didn’t get it done. And extra attention was given to Cameron Heyward who played a quiet game after a loud Week 1, literally beginning the season with a sack on his patented bull rush.
Watt wasn’t just missed as a pass rusher. He was also missed on the edge. Pittsburgh’s run defense wilted in the fourth quarter, allowing the Patriots to burn the final 6:33 of clock to put the game on ice. With a Steelers offense that couldn’t move the ball, New England dominated the final frame, tripling the Steelers’ snap count.
In the now-five games Watt was a pre-game inactive or on injured reserve, as is the case now, the Steelers have averaged just 1.6 sacks per game. Over the last three games he’s completely missed, two last year and today’s loss, Pittsburgh’s defense is averaging just 0.67 sacks.
Pittsburgh will go back to the drawing board on a short week with a Thursday night matchup looming against the Cleveland Browns. They boast a good offensive line though have had issues as the tackles, RT Jack Conklin has been hurt, LT Jedrick Wills hasn’t played as well as the team has hoped, but the Steelers will have to find a way to deal without Watt. While he’s returning at some point this season, that point won’t be soon, and Pittsburgh’s pass rush can’t be this anemic for the next five weeks. Or the season will be over by the time Watt gets healthy.