Funny what a win can do for a football team, at least in the eyes of the national media.
After ranking in the bottom half of the Power Rankings all summer at The Athletic, a thrilling 23-20 win over the AFC North favorite Cincinnati Bengals on the road at Paycor Stadium in Week 1 caused the Pittsburgh Steelers to make a massive leap forward in the post-Week 1 Power Rankings, landing at No. 11 overall, according to The Athletic’s Bo Wulf.
Of course, a lot of that has to do with being 1-0 compared teams below them at 0-1, but it’s still interesting to see the Steelers take such a sizable leap, in large part due to the defensive performance that led to the thrilling win in division play.
“T.J. Watt’s injury changed the outlook after a surprise, feel-good win in Cincinnati. Though Malik Reed is in place to soak up some of Watt’s snaps, perhaps the absence of the reigning Defensive Player of the Year will shine a brighter national light on Minkah Fitzpatrick, who had an interception return for a touchdown, 14 tackles and a game-saving blocked extra point,” Wulf writes regarding the Steelers landed at No. 11 overall in the Power Rankings. “And save some attention for Alex Highsmith, who had three sacks in the opener. Even without Watt, this could be a defense good enough to carry a scared offense.”
In the hours after the back-and-forth game that resulted in a win for the Steelers, all of the concern surrounded Watt’s injury and the possibility of losing the reigning Defensive Player of the Year for the entire season after just four quarters of play. Since then though, it’s been mostly positive news for Watt, who won’t miss the entire season and should be back by the bye week in Week 9 for the Steelers.
Even without Watt for a stretch of play, the Steelers’ defense will remain dominant, thanks to guys like Cameron Heyward and Minkah Fitzpatrick, the Week 1 AFC Defensive Player of the Week. Much deserved.
Add in the emergence of Alex Highsmith, who had three sacks Sunday, and the previous acquisition of Malik Reed, giving the Steelers an experienced edge guy behind Watt, the Steelers should be able to weather the storm defensively as best they can.
That said, it might not matter much if the offense under Mitch Trubisky and second-year offensive coordinator Matt Canada doesn’t figure some things out on moving forward. Sunday’s performance was, in a word, ugly, from all parties involved on the offensive side. Without Watt, the offense will have to do some heavy lifting to help out the defense.
If the Steelers can figure it out offensively and return to at least an average level, the Steelers will be just fine. If not, it could take a turn for the worst.