When the Pittsburgh Steelers hit the field inside Acrisure Stadium Sunday to open up Week 10 against the New Orleans Saints, it will be the first time that the defense has been fully healthy since the final preseason game, at the very least, thanks in large part to the impending returns of star outside linebacker T.J. Watt and veteran safety Damontae Kazee.
Kazee and Watt, both of whom have been on the Reserve/Injured list this season, should be activated this week to the 53-man roster for the Week 10 matchup against the Saints. Kazee has been out since final roster cuts after suffering a serious forearm injury in the final preseason game against the Detroit Lions, while Watt has been out since Week 2 after suffering a pectoral injury in the fourth quarter of the Week 1 overtime win against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Watt also reportedly underwent knee surgery roughly one month ago, though it’s unclear how much that impacted his rehab and timetable to return.
Kazee has until Thursday to be activated before his 21-day window closes, while Watt has until Nov. 16.
With the impending return of both veterans, star safety Minkah Fitzpatrick is looking forward to getting two playmakers back on the field defensively, giving the unit a full defense back for the first time since late August, which should also take some pressure off of guys to make play with those two stepping into the fold.
“You know, both of them are playmakers, so it takes pressure off of myself and other guys to make plays, put other guys in positions that are reliable to make plays,” Fitzpatrick stated Monday to reporters, according to video via Steelers.com. “And it is having a full defense back, which is obviously gonna of course help us out a lot.”
It will be nice to have that full defense back on the field, especially after the Steelers were thrown for a loop early in the season with the injury to Kazee, taking away any sort of three-safety sets they wanted to run defensively. Then, add in the Watt injury late in Week 1 and the Steelers have really had to shift pieces around to try and stop opposing offenses.
It hasn’t quite worked out since for the Steelers, who have struggled to get to the quarterback and have struggled to take the football away. After recording seven sacks and five turnovers in Week 1, the Steelers have recorded just eight sacks in the seven games since, and have recorded just five turnovers outside of Week 1.
That’s not good enough, and Fitzpatrick knows it.
That’s where players like Kazee — who led the league in interceptions in 2017 — and Watt, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, could provide a sizable boost to the black and gold, helping the Steelers potentially go on a run in the second half against a rather week schedule overall.