Apart from Week 1 against the Cincinnati Bengals, the Pittsburgh Steelers had arguably their best defensive showing of the year against the New Orleans Saints last weekend. Yes, the offense of the Saints does not present the most diverse star power the league has to offer, but anytime a team is held to under two touchdowns, the defense did an excellent job regardless of opponent. One key contributor to both of those games was LB Alex Highsmith, who has arguably been the most impressive and surprising defender through the first half of the season.
This past week he was awarded AFC Defensive Player of the Week for his play against New Orleans and could easily have been honored in Week 1 for his three-sack performance. DC Teryl Austin spoke earlier today regarding Highsmith’s emergence this year, as well as his under the radar status on a national level.
“Early at camp there was a lot of questions about whether he could be a double-digit sack guy,” said Austin according to the team transcript. “He thought he could, I know he said he could, and he’s working his way towards that…it’s the way he works and how he’s gone about his business.”
Not only is Highsmith working his way towards double-digit sacks, he’s currently on pace to reach 16 of them, which would be ten more than his total last season. For what it’s worth, his performances have been very correlated to the health of LB T.J. Watt, as his only two games with at least two sacks have been the two games that Watt has been active for. Nonetheless, it’s reasonable to assume that his play would be aided by a healthy Watt due to the attention that Watt generates for a blocking scheme, so it’s crucial that he has been able to take advantage of those mismatches. However, despite his impressive numbers, his play has seemed to not be given the credit it deserves by the national media.
“We know his value to us and what he means to us and we’re really appreciative of the type of player he is,” explained Austin. “What they feel outside of this building really doesn’t matter to us.”
The rematch this weekend against Cincinnati will again be a challenge, but one that the Steelers handled perfectly to start off the season. While the Steelers’ offense will need to show the same promise and consistency that they displayed last weekend, the defense will be the key if Pittsburgh is able to pull off another upset against the Bengals, this time at home. As always, the ability to pressure the quarterback and create splash plays will decide the game, which Highsmith has proved to have a knack for.