Steelers News

Keisel Sees Obvious Impact Of T.J. Watt’s Absence: ‘They’ve Got To Get Some Rush’

It would seem obvious that losing your best player is going to have a significant impact on how your team looks, but to watch how the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense has played both with and without T.J. Watt, it’s a bit hard to fathom.

Players like Minkah Fitzpatrick, Cameron Heyward, Larry Ogunjobi, and Myles Jack are naturally talented in a vacuum, independent of how a superstar’s presence like Watt affects how they are able to play against an offense. And yet the defense has been frequently spotty and sometimes outright bad in the four games since the reigning Defensive Player of the Year has been out.

Although he never got to play with Watt, former Steeler Brett Keisel understands just how much this defense is missing him right now, something that he talked about on former quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s Footbahlin podcast yesterday.

“It’s amazing, you think about how many games and how many play that that kid impacts in the outcome of a game, and T.J.’s like, a freak”, he said about Watt. “They’ve got to get some rush. It’s all about getting to the quarterback and things like that”.

In the time elapsed since Watt’s pectoral injury in week one, the Steelers have managed a total of three sacks, with 2.5 of them being accounted for by Alex Highsmith. The other half sack he shares with Ogunjobi. They failed to register any sacks in week two against the New England Patriots or Sunday against the Buffalo Bills.

Watt, of course, is coming off of a season in which he tied the all-time NFL record for the most sacks in a single season with 22.5. He had another sack in the opener before he was injured, and also had an interception, affecting numerous other plays with his pass-rush prowess and run defense primarily.

“He can be a game-wrecker and a game-changer and it opens up so much more for everybody else”, Keisel said. “Now that that’s gone and others are gone for injuries or whatever, guys that you couldn’t double now are getting doubled and sometimes tripled”.

And so where does the rush come from? Highsmith has, for the most part, done his job. He is among the league leaders in sacks after all, even if three of his 5.5 on the season came in the opener before Watt’s injury. Ogunjobi and Heyward have mostly offered some good play as well.

It’s the spot vacated by Watt that has been the most glaring issue. The lack of quality depth at outside linebacker behind the starters—with Malik Reed and Jamir Jones and now Ryan Anderson—is so bleak that they have been frequently using rookie third-round defensive end DeMarvin Leal in a 3-3-5 front, even having him stand up.

The simple fact of the matter is that this defense is severely handicapped without Watt, because they don’t have anybody who can actually fill in for him. I’m not talking about replacing him. I’m just talking about filling in, doing yeoman work. They don’t even have an Arthur Moats. They’re dealing with Jarvis Joneses and worst right now.

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