Watt’s damage altered Steelers path to competition in 2022


PITTSBURGH (AP) — The path to competition for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2022 was at all times going to be slim.

It nearly at all times is for a group in its first season after a franchise quarterback walks out the door for the ultimate time.

For the Steelers to navigate the early levels of the post-Ben Roethlisberger period with out bottoming out, they wanted two issues to occur concurrently. The protection wanted to be, as coach Mike Tomlin promised throughout the offseason, “dominant.” And whoever changed Roethlisberger at quarterback — be it Mitch Trubisky or Kenny Pickett — wanted to primarily not lose video games with careless turnovers.

The plan labored. Well, for about four-ish quarters anyway.

The Steelers overwhelmed defending AFC champion Cincinnati within the early levels of the season opener. T.J. Watt, Cam Heyward and the remainder of Pittsburgh’s entrance seven ransacked the Bengals’ offensive line, overwhelmed and confused Cincinnati quarterback Joe Burrow and appeared to have rediscovered the snarl the unit lacked in opposition to high quality groups in 2021.

Trubisky performed it protected, very happy to fill the position of recreation supervisor whereas the protection went to work.

Then Watt felt a searing ache in his chest as he tried to corral Burrow late. In the temporary second it took for Watt’s left pectoral to tear, the arc of Pittsburgh’s season irrevocably modified.

While the Steelers nonetheless managed to by some means pull out an inconceivable time beyond regulation victory — because of greater than somewhat assist from the Bengals — no matter margin for error they’d evaporated.

By early October Trubisky’s temporary stint because the beginning quarterback was over and the protection was a middling mess that took turns wilting somewhat … or quite a bit.

The bottoming out that has lengthy served as a part of the circle of life for many NFL groups throughout the wage cap period — simply not in locations comparable to Pittsburgh — lastly seems to be at hand.

The Steelers are 2-6 after eight video games for simply the second time in Tomlin’s 16-year tenure. In 2013, Pittsburgh summoned sufficient to rally to an 8-8 end, narrowly lacking a playoff berth.

Yet that group had Roethlisberger in his prime and offensive stars on the rise in Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell. It additionally had a locker room scattered with gamers who nonetheless had a Super Bowl look (or two) on their respective resumes.

The 2022 model of the Steelers doesn’t. The leaders on offense embrace co-captain Najee Harris, who says all the correct issues however is averaging simply 3.3 yards per carry. Trubisky stays a co-captain, although his greatest position proper now’s serving as a de facto mentor to the 24-year-old Pickett, who has been thrust into the position as one of many faces of the franchise somewhat sooner than Tomlin initially deliberate.

Tomlin has tried to strike a good tone all through maybe probably the most tough stretch of his profession. He additionally is aware of, nonetheless, that what he says issues far lower than what his group does.

“Words are not going to get it done, actions are,” Tomlin stated. “We’re going to work hard and roll our sleeves up and continue this process.”

As painful because it may be, not less than within the brief time period.


Not a lot, although one of many few vivid spots has been the rising chemistry between Pickett and fellow rookie George Pickens. The athletic 6-foot-3 Pickens maybe had the catch of the primary half of the season in a loss to Cleveland in September and has seemed just like the downfield menace the Steelers desperately want.


Just about all the things else. The offense is within the backside quarter of the league in nearly each main statistical class, together with factors (thirty first), yards (twenty eighth) and turnovers (twenty eighth). Offensive coordinator Matt Canada has turn out to be a flashpoint for the unit’s struggles, and he has carried out little in his 26 video games calling the performs to give you one thing that may work on the NFL stage. His job safety after the season seems tenuous at greatest barring a serious turnaround.

The protection hasn’t been a lot better. The Steelers had seven sacks in Week 1. They have eight whole in seven video games with out Watt.


Expectations for inside linebacker Devin Bush each inside and out of doors the group plummeted within the offseason to the purpose the place the Steelers declined to choose up Bush’s fifth-year choice.

While the 2019 first-round decide nonetheless hasn’t returned to the shape he confirmed earlier than tearing the ACL in his knee early in 2020, Bush has been stable if not spectacular. Considering the place Bush was at a yr in the past, it’s a step up.


Harris appears to be like the a part of an NFL beginning operating again. His manufacturing, nonetheless, just isn’t matching his pedigree. Playing behind an offensive line that appears extra comfy backpedaling in cross safety than it does attempting to open operating lanes, Harris has been a non-factor.

An efficient operating recreation would go an extended approach to taking a few of the strain off Pickett to do all of it. At the second, it’s not taking place.


Watt might return as quickly as this Sunday in opposition to New Orleans. The week off doubtless helped defensive sort out Larry Ogunjobi (knee), who has been efficient at occasions after signing a one-year deal.


8 — the variety of interceptions Pickett has thrown in 165 cross makes an attempt as a professional. He threw simply seven interceptions in 497 makes an attempt throughout his breakout season at Pitt final fall. While not all of the picks are his fault, Pickett must take higher care of the ball if the Steelers are to have any shot at stringing wins collectively over the second half.


Try to construct some momentum towards 2023 over the season’s ultimate 9 video games. The schedule isn’t overly daunting. The Steelers face simply two groups the remainder of the way in which who entered Monday with successful data: AFC North rivals Cincinnati and Baltimore.


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