To say the Steelers' defense won’t be compromised and severely impacted by the loss of T.J. Watt, who suffered a pectoral injury in Pittsburgh’s Week 1 win against the Bengals last week and will be out at least a month after being placed on Injured Reserve, is the very height of ignorance, delusion and/or just plain naivete.
No, losing Watt, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year and arguably the best pass-rusher in the NFL, will reduce the effectiveness of Pittsburgh’s defense. The experts know it. The fans know it (deep down, even if they don’t want to admit it). The media knows it.
The Rooneys know it, otherwise, they wouldn’t have gone against their long-held belief and paid Watt $80 million in guaranteed money prior to the 2021 campaign. “Oh, we can just use the Next Man Up instead of setting a precedent in guaranteed money? I think we’ll try that.”
Having said that, the Steelers defense can still be good without Watt and should be able to hold down the fort until he makes his return. There are enough effective parts left in the mix to keep this unit running at a very good level, if not the suffocatingly dominant one we witnessed at Paycor Stadium in Week 1.
That brings me to this Sunday afternoon and the matchup between the Steelers and Patriots at Acrisure Stadium.
If there was ever an offense for a Watt-less defense to work its kinks out against and perhaps discover what works and what doesn't, it’s the unit that New England will be running out there in Pittsburgh’s 2022 home opener.
Former MLB pitching great and current Red Sox color analyst, Dennis Eckersley, described the Pirates roster and attempt at a rebuild as a “hodgepodge of nothingness” during a recent series between Boston and Pittsburgh at PNC Park. Hard to argue with the Eck, but can’t you say the same thing about the Patriots' offense and the talent head coach Bill Belichick has tried to fortify it with in recent years?
New England used a first-round pick on a quarterback—Mac Jones—in the 2021 NFL Draft. That was smart. That was necessary after the departure of the legendary Tom Brady.
But what have the Patriots given Jones to work with in terms of skill-position players?
DeVante Parker? Nelson Agholor? Jakobi Meyers? Those are the Patriots' top three receivers.
Hunter Henry? That’s New England’s starting tight end.
In fairness, Damien Harris, New England’s starting running back, isn’t bad, but that’s kind of damning him with faint praise when compared to his teammates, right?
Talk about pathetic.
It is worth pointing out that the Patriots did select Baylor receiver Tyquan Thornton in the second round of the 2022 NFL Draft, but he got injured over the summer and will be out for some time after having surgery.
Anyway, even without Watt, the Steelers' defense should have its way against a Patriots offense that only scored seven points in a 20-7 Week 1 loss to a Dolphins team that was also without T.J. Watt.
Obviously, a Steelers writer talking about another team’s pathetic offense looks like the height of hypocrisy, but I’m not expecting much from Pittsburgh’s offense on Sunday, either.
However, I am predicting that the Steelers defense, even without T.J. Watt, will be the difference in Sunday’s game, even better than a Belichick defense that was put together through his genius.
I guess the genius of Bill Belichick, who has a hand in the Patriots' offensive game plan, doesn’t extend beyond the defensive side of the ball.