PITTSBURGH (93.7 The Fan) – Never once since TJ Watt was drafted in 2017 have the Steelers won a game in which he hasn’t played. Two of those six games came this year.
They lost to Chicago, Cleveland, Cincinnati, the Chargers, New England and Cleveland again. In the pair this season, it’s been alarming. No sacks against the Patriots and only two against the Browns.
“I have to step up,” Heyward said Thursday. “I have to be a better player on the field. It’s not me replacing TJ, it’s my technique has to be a lot better. I think every player should work towards raising their level when you get guys out.”
“It sucks not having a guy like TJ Watt out there because he’s best in the world at what he does,” said Steelers outside linebacker and leading sacker Alex Highsmith. “We know the standard is the standard, whoever is out there has to produce and get pressure on the quarterback. I think we are getting better every game; our record doesn’t show that right now. We made a lot of corrections this week and we are excited to get out there.”
“I think we’re close; I’d like it better if I didn’t have to find that answer, but we’re continuing to work and continuing to move,” said Steelers Defensive Coordinator Teryl Austin. “Mike [Tomlin] always says that one man’s misfortune is another man’s fortune. So, we have some guys that are getting opportunities here and I think we’re a little bit closer in that regard. But again, that all will show out on Sundays. I can stand here and say, ‘Hey, yeah, I think we’ve got the answer,’ but until that happens on Sunday, I’d be lying to you.”
It’s not that the Steelers didn’t explore options. They traded for outside linebacker Malik Reed, who had 13 sacks combined the last two seasons in Denver. Reed played in 79% of the defensive snaps against the Browns with two tackles and has one QB hit in three games.
They also brought back Delonte Scott to the practice squad, he’s been released for a second time. Linebacker Jamir Jones has played special teams, but just 11 defensive snaps in the last two games. Steelers even brought in former Washington second-round pick Ryan Anderson, but he has yet to dress for a game.
The latest move is shifting rookie defensive lineman DeMarvin Leal to a defensive end/outside linebacker position. He’s played 29 snaps the last couple of games with three tackles and a pass defended.
“I think that one thing it does is it’s forced Marv [DeMarvin] Leal into play and I think he’s flashed some really good stuff,” Austin said. “He’s kind of what we thought he was, a really active, really good football player that’s just going to need to continue to grow and get some technique work and all the good stuff that most young guys do. But I think it’s pressed him into maybe a little bit more action than we thought and that’s been a good thing.”
“It’s an opportunity for guys to step up,” Heyward said. “We have to be excited about those opportunities. If you can turn it into a position & you get a guy like TJ back, it only adds to your group. We’ve lost two games, we have to clean it up and grow from it.”