Once the ball kicks off Sunday inside Acrisure Stadium between the Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots, much of the focus will shift towards the Steelers’ defensive side of the football, specifically into the hole vacated by T.J. Watt at left outside linebacker due to a pectoral injury that landed him on Injured Reserve earlier this week.
Though the Steelers have been without Watt’s services in the past in four separate games, the Steelers have never been without him for a consistent stretch like the one they’re about to enter into, starting with the Patriots game Sunday in front of a packed house.
Knowing they’ll be without Watt for at least four games, the Steelers are focused on getting Malik Reed and Jamir Jones up to speed, rather than worrying about how other teams — specifically New England — will deal with Alex Highsmith on the other side.
Sitting down with Steelers.com’s Bob Pompeani for the Keys to the Game segment, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin stated that it’s not about what the Patriots plan to do with Highsmith on the opposite side. Rather, it’s about the Steelers getting those guys in Reed, Jones, and even new signing David Anenih up to speed.
“I lean away from speculating because I’m not in New England, I don’t know what their agenda is,” Tomlin said to Pompeani, according to video via Steelers.com. “I know what has my attention is the readiness of Malik [Reed] and [Jamir] Jones, and seeing what they do well and how we can position them to perform the way that we need them to perform. I’ll worry less about New England’s intentions.”
Throughout much of the week leading up to the New England game, that’s been the question Tomlin has gotten a lot, interns of how teams are going to game plan against Highsmith now, especially with the third-year outside linebacker coming off of a breakout performance in Week 1 against the Cincinnati Bengals, recording three sacks in the win.
While Tomlin and the coaching staff undoubtedly have a plan for if and when teams start to try and scheme against Highsmith off the edge, he’s not going to feed into any sort of speculation through the media based on what teams may or may not do, instead (rightly) choosing to focus in-house on his own players, getting guys like Reed and Jones up to speed, as well as Anenih.
There is no replacing Watt and his ability to change a game on his own. What the Steelers can do though is try and get Reed and Jones, like Tomlin said, in the best positions possible to succeed. What those positions or situations are remains to be seen, but the Steelers are going to find out in a hurry, starting Sunday against the Patriots.