How will the Pittsburgh Steelers regroup after the T.J. Watt harm?

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PITTSBURGH — Two days after lip readers shook their heads as they noticed him telling Steelers medical personnel that he tore his pec as he walked off the sector in Cincinnati, T.J. Watt relayed one other significant message.

Tweeting a Terminator gif together with his signature catchphrase, “I will be again,” Watt allayed fears Tuesday afternoon that his season was over, avoiding the type of worst-case state of affairs that felt almost inevitable when he left the sector.

“We’re most likely in rather a lot higher place than we have been after the sport,” coach Mike Tomlin mentioned Tuesday. “… I can definitively say that T.J. will not play this week [against the Patriots], however I will not make any commitments past that.”

Monday, Watt walked by way of the locker room a number of occasions, and although he turned down interview requests, he appeared upbeat. There was cause for his optimism: scans and evaluations confirmed that whereas his pectoral is torn, he would not want surgical procedure and should solely be sidelined six weeks, sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter. That might put his return close to the tip of October, probably in time for the Steelers’ Sunday night time showdown in Miami on Oct. 23.

“He all the time has an excellent angle about issues, and that is what makes him an excellent chief as nicely,” outdoors linebacker Alex Highsmith mentioned. “Even in dangerous occasions, he is all the time attempting to make everybody higher round him. I feel by him having that, he is letting folks know that it is gonna be alright.”

Although Watt averted what might’ve been a season-ending harm, the Steelers protection — the unquestioned energy of the 2022 staff — can be significantly weaker in his absence.

A 12 months in the past, Watt tied Michael Strahan’s 22.5-sack NFL document en path to his first Defensive Participant of the 12 months award, and he did it in 15 video games after lacking one sport with a groin harm and one other with a knee harm. He additionally performed lower than per week after testing constructive for COVID-19 and recorded 3.5 sacks of Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson in his first sport after the sickness. Previous to his harm Sunday, Watt had an interception, one sack, three tackles for loss and two passes defended.

Pectoral accidents have a spread of outcomes and restoration occasions, however Watt — and his brother, J.J. — have repeatedly confirmed restoration occasions to easily be solutions. J.J. Watt tore his pectoral in October 2019 and returned Jan 4, 2020 for a Houston Texans extra time playoff win.

“I would somewhat say whoa than sic ’em [in terms of rushing Watt back],” Tomlin mentioned. “We’re speaking about defending a extremely aggressive, gifted man. That is the job, so I am not gonna act like that is an issue.”

The youngest Watt is a game-wrecker, a terror for opposing quarterbacks and a cornerstone of a protection that had all of the makings of a stalwart unit. Dropping him for any time period not solely handicaps the Steelers’ go rush, it additionally limits a few of the Steelers defensive packages, together with the three outdoors linebacker groupings it deployed at occasions every of the final two seasons. With out Watt, the Steelers must lean extra on their secondary to get strain and get inventive in bringing blitzes.

“He is the most effective on the earth at what he does,” Highsmith mentioned. “I am simply grateful for the best way he is helped me in my sport and every part. … I do know a man like him, that is gonna harm him that he is not on the market as a result of he loves soccer a lot. We’re simply gonna rally round him. We have the blokes to only be capable to step in and ship if he is not capable of go.”

The depth of the surface linebacker corps was a serious query coming into coaching camp, and the Steelers swapped late-round picks with the Denver Broncos to accumulate Malik Reed on cut-down day in an effort to fortify the group. When Watt went out Sunday afternoon, the Steelers rotated Reed and Jamir Jones within the second outdoors linebacker spot, taking part in them reverse of Highsmith. Reed completed Sunday’s sport taking part in 32 of 100 defensive snaps, whereas Jones performed 18.

The Steelers have been drawn to Reed, who has 13 sacks within the final two seasons, due to his beginning expertise, and so they’ll lean on it much more now.

“He is an edge man that gives good high quality depth for us there,” Tomlin mentioned of Reed final month. “He is performed rather a lot; he is performed over 700 snaps the final two seasons. He was type of the third man that obtained elevated and performed rather a lot in Denver due to circumstances, [Bradley] Chubb and others. He brings a sort of expertise that is useful to us.”

Reed began 13 video games with the Broncos every of the final two seasons, at occasions changing premier go rushers Von Miller and Bradley Chubb. He got here to Pittsburgh in hopes of getting extra taking part in time after the Broncos acquired Randy Gregory, and Reed’s earlier expertise makes him particularly ready to fill in for Watt.

“They only mentioned be prepared to your position to broaden,” Reed mentioned Monday. “I knew that was a part of my cause for coming right here. So I have been prepared for it.”

Jones, although, lacks the identical expertise. He hung out with the Steelers final season however was launched after recording zero tackles in a Week 3 begin.

“Each time you get launched, it is like a slap within the face,” Jones mentioned. “You have gotta use that and use it to get higher. Taking a look at your self within the mirror and see what flaws you may have and assault these. And that is what I did each single day.”

With Watt’s prolonged absence, Highsmith, in his third season, would be the new on-field chief of the surface linebacker group. He obtained out to a sizzling begin towards the Bengals, recording three sacks, two tackles for loss and 4 quarterback hits in his season debut. The stat line is very spectacular after Highsmith missed an enormous chunk of coaching camp coping with a lingering ribs harm.

“It is a testomony to his means to situation himself whereas he was injured,” Heyward mentioned. “He stayed locked in. The 12 months earlier than he handled an harm, and it type of hammered him going into the season. I believed this 12 months he seemed actually prepared for this second.”

However for all of Watt’s measurables, it is the intangibles that the Steelers will miss, too. Watt was voted a captain per week in the past, the second time he is had the consideration since he was drafted in 2017. He is an emotional chief and a instructor, firing up his teammates with highlight-reel performs and instructing them his methods throughout follow.

“Having T.J. on the market positively advantages us,” Heyward mentioned on Sunday. “He is a frontrunner. He is the Defensive Participant of the 12 months. Nonetheless lengthy it takes, different guys gotta step up. Alex (Highsmith) stepped up fairly good at present. Malik (Reed) and Jamir (Jones) are coming alongside. We needed to do some totally different stuff on the market, however we rally round him. And when he will get again, we’ll be prepared.”

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