The Pittsburgh Steelers won their Week 1 opener against the Cincinnati Bengals, but they could be without star pass-rusher T.J. Watt for quite some time.
Watt underwent tests after the game, but the initial belief if that the 2021 Defensive Player of the Year tore his pectoral muscle. If that’s the case, he could be out the majority or all of the 2022 season.
To lose a player of that magnitude on the opening week does taint a win, somewhat. Pittsburgh’s defense is reliant on creating a heavy pass-rush, and their linebacking corps behind Watt is relatively weak. To be fair, though, it’s unfair to ask any singular player to replace Watt.
So, with that in mind, which three players need to step up the most to replace at least some of the 27-year-old’s production?
Steelers T.J. Watt replacements: Alex Highsmith
Highsmith played well alongside Watt on Sunday, in part because the latter takes most of the offensive line’s attention in clear passing situations. However, without Watt, Highsmith will need to prove he can be the overwhelming force the Steelers drafted him to one day develop into.
Pittsburgh defensive stalwart Cam Heyward praised Highsmith after Pittsburgh’s win, saying there was a noticeable difference in his play as compared to last year.
“He’s been out, but at the same time he’s conditioned himself for it,” Heyward said. “We ask a lot out of everybody on defense, but you know, I thought Alex day-in and day-out, he was always conditioned and trying to stay on top of it. Taking scout team reps, you name it. It’s a testament to him just being ready for the moment…”
That moment, it would appear, could start Week 2 against the Patriots.