Losing All-Pro and Defensive Player of the Year T.J. Watt is a significant blow to the defense of the Pittsburgh Steelers. There’s simply no way around that.
The Steelers won’t be able to generate the type of production or game-changing plays that Watt brings to the table, regardless of who attempts to fill his shoes for the time being. That said, with some experience behind him with the likes of Malik Reed and Jamir Jones, not to mention Alex Highsmith opposite him, Steelers’ first-year defensive coordinator Teryl Austin is optimistic that the Steelers will be able to generate pressure and sacks without Watt for at least the next four weeks after the star was placed on injured reserve Thursday morning.
Speaking with reporters Thursday from the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex on the South Side, Austin added that structurally the Steelers won’t change what they do defensively, though they will have to get a bit creative with some rush packages to try and generate those pressures and sacks, considering Watt was able to do that on his own.
“I think we can get pressure. I’m not sure you can ever say you get as much [without Watt], but I’m not gonna discount anything,” Austin said to reporters Thursday, according to video via the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s Joe Rutter. “I think we got quality guys. The guys behind him, Malik Reed’s had sacks in this league. We’ve got good guys inside. I think Alex [Highsmith] is coming along, so I think there’s ways to generate pressure and generate sacks.”
Highsmith is coming off of a three-sack game against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 1 and is looking like he’s going to take that massive third-year leap in the Steel City that many have been expecting. As for Reed, he’s no stranger to stepping into a starting role due to injuries, having produced in the past in Denver filling in for Von Miller and Bradley Chubb.
Jones and new 53-man roster signee David Anenih remain relative unknowns, though Jones played 112 defensive snaps in 2021 with the Steelers, Jacksonville Jaguars and Los Angeles Rams. Even without Watt, it still remains a dangerous front seven in Pittsburgh Cameron Heyward, Larry Ogunjobi, Highsmith, Reed and more.
The sacks might not come in bunches, and the game-changing plays might not be there from Watt, but overall the Steelers will be able to weather the storm up front for the next month or so without Watt.