Needing a play late in the fourth quarter of a tight ballgame against the Indianapolis Colts on Monday Night Football, a familiar face stepped up in a big way for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
That’s right, Alex Highsmith came through in the clutch once again for the black and gold, recording a strip sack on Colts’ quarterback Matt Ryan and then tackling Indianapolis running back Jonathan Taylor short on a third down run, helping the Steelers defense hold off a potential late scoring drive in a 24-17 win, improving to 4-7 on the season.
With the pass rush rather quiet all night and the Colts doing a solid job against Highsmith and star outside linebacker T.J. Watt all night, someone needed to step up and make a play in the second half as Ryan and the Colts marched up and down the field. After defensive end Chris Wormley recorded a Ryan fumble near the goal line in the third quarter, Highsmith came up large on the Colts’ final drive.
Highsmith recorded the strip sack of Ryan on a first and 10 from the Steelers’ 33 yard line, though Ryan got it back on the next play, scrambling for 14 yards to set up the third and three. On the third and short play, Highsmith stopped Taylor for no gain, setting up the second fourth and three of the drive, which ultimately resulted in a pass breakup from Minkah Fitzpatrick and Cameron Sutton intended for Colts wide receiver Parris Campbell, sealing the win for the Steelers.
Highsmith’s performance late in the game with the game on the line was no surprise to Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, who had high praise for his third-year pass rusher after the game.
“Alex is legit. I think everybody knows that,” Tomlin stated to reporters following the win, according to the Steelers’ official YouTube page. “But at the same time, man, it’s good to have ol’ 90 on the opposite side of you. I think that helps.”
Having Watt back in the lineup certainly helps. Since Watt returned from the pectoral injury, Highsmith has recorded 3.5 sacks and forced two fumbles in three weeks, returning to his high level of play he displayed earlier in the season.
Highsmith’s sack on Ryan in the fourth quarterback gives him 10 on the year, helping him check a box he was aiming for coming into his third season. With 10 sacks on the year, Highsmith is well on his way to a Pro Bowl berth and, potentially, a lucrative contract extension in the offseason entering the final year of his rookie deal.
In the win over the Colts, Highsmith finished with six tackles, one sack and two quarterback hits, coming up clutch when the Steelers needed it the most. That’s what great players do, and there’s no denying that’s what Highsmith is at this point: a great player.