The 2021 NFL Defensive Player of the Year hasn’t taken the field since Week 1. But the Pittsburgh Steelers will have T.J. Watt when they host the Saints on Sunday.
Let’s put the title of this piece in proper perspective. Losers of their last two games and six of their first eight contests this season, things couldn’t be much worse for the 2-6 Pittsburgh Steelers.
Mike Tomlin’s club is all alone in the basement of the AFC North. The offense is ranked 28th in the league, only the Indianapolis Colts are averaging fewer points per game and the Steelers’ defense is giving up the fourth-most yards per contest.
Common sense would suggest that the return of one of the NFL’s most relentless defenders can only be a positive. This much is certain. It won’t be from a lack of effort from outside linebacker T.J. Watt. And while there was talk that the six-year pro could be on a pitch count of sorts against the New Orleans Saints on Sunday that apparently won’t be the case.
T.J. Watt won’t be restricted in his first game back for the Steelers
During the Steelers’ Week 1 23-20 overtime upset of the defending AFC champions Bengals at Cincinnati, Watt finished with six solo tackles (3 for losses), one sack, an interception and a pair of passes defended. That afternoon, Mike Tomlin’s team dropped Joe Burrow seven times.
But the 2021 NFL Defensive Player of the Year suffered a torn pectoral muscle in the victory. Pittsburgh has dropped six of its last seven games in his absence and Teryl Austin’s defensive unit has managed just eight sacks in those contests.
Of course, having T.J. Watt back on the field this weekend has little to do with the fact that rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett has nine of the team’s 14 turnovers while Pittsburgh’s ground game is again near the bottom of the league. Steelers’ kicker Chris Boswell was placed on IR and is out of action. And Tomlin, Austin and offensive coordinator Matt Canada can’t help but hear the criticism.
So things could be looking up for the Black and Gold. How far up is anyone’s guess?