The Steelers didn’t win a game last season in which T.J. Watt missed either the whole game or started and didn’t finish, going 0-4-1 in such games.
When he did start and finish the game, they were 9-3.
In last Sunday’s 23-20 overtime win against the Bengals, Watt left late in the fourth quarter with a pectoral muscle injury that resulted in him winding up on injured reserve on Thursday.
The injury to Watt isn’t season-ending. That was the initial fear. He’s likely out four to six weeks.
That’s about the best-case scenario the Steelers could have asked for with the last year’s NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
The Steelers did find a way to dig deep and win the game against the Bengals, so they’ve already done a couple of things they couldn’t do a year ago.
The first was to beat the Bengals. Cincinnati beat them twice a year ago by a combined score of 65-20. The second was to win a game that Watt did not finish.
Obviously, the Steelers have their work cut out for them playing at least the next month without Watt.
“It’s going to change because he’s not there and the things that he does,” said defensive coordinator Teryl Ausin. “Obviously, everybody knows what he does really well, which is a lot of things. But I think structurally we’re going to remain the same. We’re going to do the things that we think are good, that are sound fundamentally. So, we’re going to go that way. We know we may not get the type of production T.J. had, but as we get good, solid, varsity play like Mike (Tomlin) likes to call it, we’re going to be fine.”
- The defensive performance against the Bengals was nothing short of dominant. The Steelers’ defense was on the field for nearly 100 plays and give up just 20 points.
That was what Tomlin was referring to when he talked about playing dominant defense.
- So, what will the Steelers’ defense look like without Watt?
Malik Reed, acquired two weeks ago in a trade with the Denver Broncos, will see some time in Watt’s place. And he’s started 26 games the last two seasons for Denver, recording 13 sacks. So, they’ll get some production there.
But Reed also is a 235-pound edge rusher.
It wouldn’t surprise me if the Steelers put some bigger bodies on the edge, especially in the next two games. New England and Cleveland, which the Steelers play Sunday and next Thursday, have offenses built around their running games.
- Not only did the Steelers beat the Bengals, the Pirates then swept a four-game series against the Reds in Cincinnati last week.
Miracles do happen.
- Minkah Fitzpatrick played as if he had something to prove last Sunday. And maybe he did. After all, he not only wasn’t named to the All-Pro team last year for the first time since joining the Steelers, he also was left off the Pro Bowl roster.
Oh, and NFL.com’s list of the top-100 players didn’t include him.
Tomlin should remind him of that every week.
This week’s games
Patriots (minus 2) at Steelers: What does Las Vegas know that we don’t? Did anyone watch the Patriots struggle offensively in the preseason and then continue to do so last week in Miami? New England has no offensive playmakers of note, no true offensive coordinator and no real clue about what its offensive identity is. Sure, the Steelers won’t have Watt. But they will have Minkah Fitzpatrick, Cam Heyward and more playmakers on offense than Bill Belichick can dream about. Take the Steelers 23-16.
Bengals (minus 8) at Cowboys: The Bengals still have issues with their offensive line, but the Cowboys are a mess on offense right now. And they’ll be without Dak Prescott for the next six weeks. The loser starts 0-2 and has a pretty big hole to dig out of. Take the Bengals, 27-13.
Jets (plus 6) at Browns: The Browns escaped Carolina with a win last week in an emotional game against former starting quarterback Baker Mayfield. They should win this game, but can they win it by 6? The Jets are better than they showed last week against the Ravens. Take the Jets to cover in a 24-20 loss.
Dolphins (plus 3½) at Ravens: The Dolphins shut down the toothless Patriots offense in a 20-7 win last week. They were OK, but they’ll step up in class this week against the Ravens. Baltimore should hold serve at home. Take the Ravens, 26-20
Colts (minus 4) at Jaguars: The Colts are 1-8 in their past nine trips to Jacksonville. And they’re coming off a disappointing tie last week in Houston. This is a 1 p.m. game in Jacksonville, where it should be hot and humid. Indianapolis might win this one, but I’ll take the points. Take the Jaguars to cover in a 27-24 loss.
Last Week: 3-2 ATS, 3-2 straight up.