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Tomlin Making No Excuses For Playing Without Watt

There’s no question losing T.J. Watt has impacted the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense in ways big and small. But Mike Tomlin isn’t making any excuses over it. Speaking with Bob Pompeani during today’s The Mike Tomlin Show, Tomlin said the Steelers just have to learn to adjust to life without Watt. For now, anyway.

“We don’t wanna seek comfort and cry about it,” Tomlin said. “And that’s why we don’t spend a lot of time talking about it. We get asked about it a lot but it’s obvious. He’s the player of the year. The player of the year is significant. We don’t have him right now.”

Watt suffered a pec injury in the fourth quarter of Week 1’s win over the Cincinnati Bengals. Since landing on IR, the Steelers’ defense has looked like a shell of itself. Against the Bengals, the defense recorded five turnovers and racked up seven sacks. Since, they have just three takeaways and three sacks, their pressure rate nose-diving from top ten last year to bottom-third of the league this season, and even lower if you remove Week 1 from the data set.

Minus Watt, the team has most heavily relied on veteran OLB Malik Reed and rookie DE DeMarvin Leal to pick up most of the slack. Reed has generated the occasional pressure, and while Leal’s size makes him a mismatch on tight ends in the run game, Pittsburgh’s defense hasn’t been the same. While they’ve kept the score down, this unit has struggled to close out games.

Watt’s return is unclear with some beat reporters speculating – and heavy emphasis on that word – that Watt has suffered some sort of setback. Watt is eligible to come off IR and play in Week 6 against Tampa Bay but it’s unclear if that’s in the Steelers’ plans.

Tomlin says the coaching staff continues to search for answers.

“We’re looking at the collection of people that we do have and figuring out what’s the best way to put together a plan to make that group functional as opposed to sitting around and lamenting the fact that we don’t have TJ.”

As we noted earlier today, the Steelers have used a whopping 17 different personnel groupings and alignments this season, already six more than they had all last season. But all that matters are results, and Pittsburgh hasn’t gotten the job done. They’ll face their toughest task tomorrow in Buffalo, one of the most potent offenses in the league with an elite QB in Josh Allen and a top-flight receiver in WR Stefon Diggs.

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