A repeat seven-sack, five turnover performance would go a long way to beating the Cincinnati Bengals again this weekend. But T.J. Watt isn’t focused on stats. All he cares about is the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense playing well enough to secure the win and the season sweep. Speaking to reporters Friday, Watt said he isn’t setting any specific goals in this game aside from putting a “W” in the win column.
“There’s no preconceived expectations for statistical things,” he said as tweeted by The Trib’s Chris Adamski. “We just want to get after the run and the pass and put our offense in the best situation to win the game.”
Of course, the Steelers will need some number of sacks and turnovers to win the game while taking care of the football themselves. Even a Week One performance that saw Pittsburgh finish +5 in the turnover battle while sacking Joe Burrow seven times came down to a nail-biting overtime win. Had it not been for the Bengals’ long snapper getting hurt, Cincinnati likely wins the game at the end of regulation or at the least, in overtime.
Replicating those numbers will be tough to do but Watt’s return has transformed the Steelers’ defense. Now able to rush four, drop seven, and play a simpler scheme with far fewer people, Watt will look for his first sack of the season since picking up one in the opener against the Bengals. He terrorized the offense that day, notching a sack, interception, and three tackles for a loss before partially tearing his pectoral muscle.
Pittsburgh’s defense also hopes to get back FS Minkah Fitzpatrick, who missed Week 10’s game after an emergency appendectomy. Despite practicing in full Thursday, his status seems to be truly questionable heading into the weekend. Making this matchup a little easier is the fact the Bengals are expected to be without star WR Ja’Marr Chase, still dealing with a hip injury that’s sidelined him for several weeks. In the first meeting this season, Chase went off for 10 catches for 129 yards and the game-tying touchdown. Prior to getting hurt, he was dominating defenses with 262 yards and four touchdowns across Weeks 6 and 7.
On the other side of the football, the Steelers’ offense can’t afford turnovers. In the three games they’ve won this season, they’ve turned the ball over a combined zero times. In their six losses, they’ve turned it over 14 times. It’s simple, it’s basic, but taking care of the football and taking it away from the opponent is often the difference between a win and loss. It’ll be the same story this weekend.