As we entered training camp and the preseason this past summer, there are reasons why team’s do not play their upper echelon talent, and as several teams found out the hard way on kickoff weekend, they’ll now be without the services of some of said players for the remainder of the year. As the reigning DPOY T.J. Watt came off the field on Sunday, with his arm hanging by his side, lip readers across the nation relayed to us what we would later already figure out about Watt’s pectoral injury.
For the defense, which racked up seven sacks and four picks in Sunday’s 23-20 OT win in Cincy, this places the onus on other stars like Cam Heyward, Minkah Fitzpatrick and Alex Highsmith, who had a breakout game, grabbing three sacks, or half of last season’s total. Defensive Coordinator Teryl Austin broke it down earlier today, basically verbalizing what we already know, and that’s the fact that there’s only one T.J., but he also assured that they’re not going to go looking to reinvent the wheel in replacing him.
“It’s going to change because he’s not there and the things that he does. 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. 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,” Austin said via an official transcript provided by the team.
The first test lies ahead Sunday, when the Patriots come into Acrisure Stadium for a 1 PM kickoff. Their offense looked lackluster in the team’s 20-7 loss to Miami in week one, as the Dolphins pressured them all game, racking up only two sacks but multiple turnovers, including a fumble return touchdown by ex-Steeler Melvin Ingram. Quarterback Mac Jones isn’t a sure thing to play either, as he’s currently hobbled by back spasms. He’s not the most mobile QB in the league, so the defense should smell blood in the water when pinning their ears back on Sunday.
The first man up to try and replace Watt is Malik Reed, an undrafted free agent by way of a trade with the Broncos a short time ago. He can get after the passer, as he posted eight sacks in 2020 and five last year. And due to a myriad of injuries to Bradley Chubb and Von Miller, plus Miller’s exit from Denver, Reed has started 34 of 46 games, so he’s played in big moments. Not only that, he’s learned from one of the best to ever do it in Miller, and Austin is well aware.
“Malik has had sacks in this league. I think we can get pressure. I’m not sure you can ever say you’ll get as much, but I’m not going to discount anything. I think we’ve got quality guys, the guys behind them. I think Alex is coming along. So, I think there’s ways to generate pressure and generate sacks.”