While the Pittsburgh Steelers face significant outstanding questions regarding how well their offensive line will hold up this season, their week-one opponents, the Cincinnati Bengals are similarly hoping to find better results this year than they achieved last season.
Both teams took the same route, exploiting veteran free agency in order to bolster their offensive line, though the Bengals were decidedly more aggressive, signing three new starters, and generally at higher-market prices.
They added, for example, veteran right tackle La’el Collins, whom they gave a three-year, $21 million contract. And his first challenge in Cincinnati will be the Steelers’ T.J. Watt, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year who tied the NFL single-season sack record in 2021. He spoke to James Rapien on Thursday for Cincinnati Bengals Talk about squaring up against Watt.
“He’s a hell of a player. He’s definitely established himself and his name as one of the best pass rushers in the league”, Collins said, “so it’ll be a great matchup. I’m excited about it. For me, nothing changes, the approach is the same, just as every week”.
Watt used to have a field day going against the Bengals’ former right tackle, Bobby Hart, but as you would imagine, he has had great success going up against tackles of all levels of quality. It’s what makes him one of the greatest players of his era, after all.
The sixth-year edge rusher has 7.5 career sacks against the Bengals in nine games played. He only played in one of the two games against them last season, however, missing the first due to injury, and in the second still recovering from another injury, and he posted a meager stat line of just two tackles. He would have 3.5 sacks the following week against the Baltimore Ravens.
Although he had a minor knee injury in the preseason, Watt is expected to be as close to 100 percent as one can reasonably expect. As for Collins, he missed time during training camp due to injury himself, and offered only that he is as healthy as he is going to be entering week one.
Given that Alex Highsmith missed most of training camp and the preseason due to a rib injury, we have to wonder if he might not get off to a bit of a slow start as a result, making it all the more important that Watt is able to capitalize on his matchup against Collins and give the Bengals a real test to see how good their new-look offensive line really can be against a top defensive front.