The Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense certainly looked better in the regular season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals than it has in the subsequent two games. Having five takeaways and seven sacks certainly helped. The absence of T.J. Watt has been a conspicuous variable, and those in the locker room are not shying away from that.
“T.J. is irreplaceable. Defensive Player of the Year, captain of our team”, inside linebacker Robert Spillane said from the locker room yesterday, via the team’s YouTube channel. “It hurts not having him out there, but we don’t necessarily focus on that. We focus on the guys that are out there, and we just need to continue to come together and make plays”.
Watt suffered a left pectoral injury late in the fourth quarter of the Steelers’ opening game, by which point he had already recorded a sack and an interception. While the worst was initially feared, it was later determined that he would not require surgery, though it is not known exactly how soon he will be healthy enough to return.
There have been positive signs, however. He has been seen working out regularly, including going through some degree of warmups prior to the Steelers’ subsequent games, despite being on reserve, and he has appeared to display a full range of motion in his arm with no obvious discomfort.
Watt is required to remain on the Reserve/Injured List for four games, so he will still have to miss the next two. When he returns after that, it’s impossible to judge, but perhaps it’s not inconceivable that he could return as soon as the four games. Either way, any week after that could then be the week he returns.
We are certainly well past the point at which listing accolades is necessary to illustrate the point of Watt’s importance to the Steelers’ defense. He has the hardware that speaks for itself, as well as the evidence of how the defense performs when he’s not on the field.
“Communication is not what made T.J. Watt a Defensive Player of the Year”, Spillane said. “He’s a playmaker. He goes out there and wrecks games and makes quarterbacks have nightmares. We’re excited to get him back here shortly, and we’re gonna continue to work until then”.
I hesitate to read into the linebacker’s remark of being “excited to get him back here shortly”, since ‘shortly’ could just as easily mean five or six weeks from now as it could two. Can Watt be back after missing only four games in total? For all we know, there’s no reason to rule it out. But we also can’t assume that to be true.