The Pittsburgh Steelers picked up one of the bigger upsets in the league in Week 1. They went on the road and defeated their AFC North rivals, the Cincinnati Bengals, in overtime, 23-20. It was a total team effort, but a lot of credit needs to go to the defense and special teams.
Pittsburgh battered Joe Burrow all afternoon, sacking him seven times and totaling 11 quarterback hits. Minkah Fitzpatrick led the team with 14 tackles and blocked the extra point attempt at the end of regulation to force overtime.
However, while it felt great to get the win, the Steelers could have very easily come away from the game feeling as if they had lost. That is because star pass rusher T.J. Watt and running back Najee Harris both were unable to finish the game.
Watt was injured in the waning seconds of regulation and was seen on camera mouthing to the sidelines that he believes he tore his pectoral. Losing him for any amount of time would be a huge blow to the defense, but head coach Mike Tomlin is encouraged that Watt’s injury is not severe enough to end his season.
“We’re probably in a lot better place than we were after the game,” Tomlin said Tuesday. “… I can definitively say that T.J. won’t play this week [against the Patriots], but I won’t make any commitments beyond that.”
“We’re encouraged, and we’ll just continue to look at the situation and gain opinions and do what’s appropriate.”
Watt was a force against the Bengals totaling six tackles, three of which were for a loss, along with one sack, one interception and two passes defended. Replacing him will be virtually impossible, but it had to be encouraging to see Alex Highsmith rack up three sacks opposite of him.
Next in line on the depth chart behind Watt would be Malik Reed and Jamir Jones. How long they will be needed for is anyone’s guess as the Steelers won’t know more about Watt’s timetable to return until the second and third opinions are finalized. A trip to the IR was something Tomlin was noncommittal about.
“We got time to make decisions such as that, IR decisions that have to be made by the end of the week relative to this game being a counter,” Tomlin said. “… We’re not in a hurry to gather information too quickly. We’ll see how his body responds. We’ll get second and third opinions. And at the end of the week, or at some point we’ll do what’s appropriate.”
Harris battled a Lisfranc injury to his left foot throughout the offseason that sidelined him for a majority of training camp. Luckily that injury was not re-aggravated as he was already behind the eight-ball missing so much time.
The 2021 first-round pick carried the ball 10 times for 23 yards against the Bengals as wide receiver Chase Claypool was actually the leading rusher on the afternoon, gaining 36 yards on six carries. On Sunday the news surrounding Harris wasn’t overly positive, but Tomlin is also encouraged by him.
“Najee is really optimistic,” Tomlin said. It’s good to be young. He appears to be in position [to play], but he’s going to have to practice and prove his readiness.”
The Steelers will be hosting the New England Patriots for their home opener in Week 2. It sounds like Pittsburgh has avoided disaster when it comes to Watt and Harris but it will certainly be something to keep an eye on as they are key parts of the team’s game plan on defense and offense.