The Pittsburgh Steelers will likely be without an All-Pro on the defensive side of the ball when they travel to play the Los Angeles Rams in Week 11 on Sunday Night Football. To be exact, there is a chance they are without two All-Pro defenders in prime time. With safety Minkah Fitzpatrick on the Reserve/COVID-19 List, and T.J. Watt hampered by a hip/knee injury, the defense will rely on others to step up.
The question then becomes, who?
When it comes to who will step up, defensive captain Cam Heyward says he isn’t sure who those players will be, but has faith in the team’s roster.
“I think we’re going to have to have guys step up, not exactly sure who, but that’s why you got a 53-man roster,” said Heyward. “There’s going to be injuries. There’s going to be times where you’re not 100% on defense or offense. The d-line has to step up a bunch, inside linebackers, corners. We all have to do our part to make sure we minimize the role of Minkah not playing.”
The loss of Fitzpatrick will certainly be tough to deal with not having in the lineup. In fact, the Steelers haven’t been in this position before since the team traded a first round pick to the Miami Dolphins for Fitzpatrick. Replacing Fitzpatrick is a multi-person job.
“Minkah’s the type of guy that it might be a multiple person job in an effort to highlight their individual skills.” Head coach Mike Tomlin said in his press conference Tuesday. “Minkah has a well-rounded skillset. You put him in any circumstances, he’s gonna perform relatively well. It may divide the labor up a little bit more, but that’s what we do. We look at the hand that’s dealt, we play the hand that’s dealt, and we put ourselves in a position to win.”
One of the players who could be called upon to soften the blow of Fitzpatrick not being in the lineup is rookie defensive back Tre Norwood. Norwood has been a pleasant surprise as a 7th round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, but Heyward knows he is capable of stepping up when he is needed the most.
“When he got drafted Coach Tomlin called him the swiss army knife,” said Heyward. “He has been that for us. Every time I see Tre, I am tighten up Tre. I feel like we get out there every time and he’s tightened. He knows where he needs to be. He’s a young kid that’s always on the move and always on the rise. He does so much for this team. A lot of under the radar. I think he’s going to be a valuable piece of the equation down the road.”
As Tomlin said, replacing a player like Fitzpatrick or Watt won’t just fall on player’s shoulders. Instead, it will be a collection of players stepping up their game to help ease the blow of these losses.
“We have guys that have played already, and we need them to step up,” said Heyward. “They’re going to need to step up again this week. I know we’ve got a long list of good quarterbacks we’re going to play but we got to beat the best. We say we want to go to the playoffs, what better way to do that than to make a statement with the way we play against these guys.”
To be fair, there is a chance the Steelers could have both Watt and Fitzpatrick in the lineup on Sunday night. Watt, if healthy, and if Fitzpatrick isn’t experiencing any symptoms and has two negative tests he could be with the team on their cross country flight. The Steelers aren’t banking on this taking place, which further emphasizes the team needing someone to step up and elevate their game.
Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for the Sunday Night Football game in Los Angeles in Week 11.