Steelers down more starters
The Pittsburgh Steelers had opened the 2021 campaign in fantastic fashion by beating the Buffalo Bills away from home in week one. Unfortunately for their fans though, they were unable to keep the good times rolling in week two as they were downed 26-17 on home field against the Las Vegas Raiders. However, even more concerning than losing the game is the personnel that the Steelers may have also lost in the process.
On Friday, Pittsburgh saw starting cornerback Joe Harden and starting linebacker Devin Bush suffer groin injuries in practice that would prevent them from playing against the Raiders on Sunday. But they were handed an even bigger blow when linebacker T.J. Watt was forced to leave the game right before halftime.
Watt’s injury wasn’t the only one the Steelers had to deal with either, as wide receiver Diontae Johnson picked up a knee injury on the final play of the game and nose tackle Tyson Alualu fractured an ankle in the first quarter. Head coach Mike Tomlin already said Alualu’s injury will leave him sidelined for an “extended” period of time.
“T.J. was raring to begin the game and had a lot of havoc early,” Steelers defensive captain Cam Heyward said, via ESPN. “Losing Ty was definitely something we had to adjust to. It took me a while to just settle down. But, he’s a heck of a player. … Having a guy like Tyson and T.J. out there, there’s almost a blanket there. We were already down [Stephon] Tuitt to start with, but it’s going to have to be a collective effort. It’s not one man to be Superman, but the group has to pick up the slack.”
Watt became the highest paid defender in the entire NFL when he signed a four-year extension worth $112 million to remain in Pittsburgh. He had been drafted by the franchise in the 2017 NFL Draft with the 30th overall pick and has been named to the Pro Bowl for three consecutive seasons. He also led the league in sacks last year.
“Any time you lose the best player in defensive football in the NFL, there’s going to be a drop-off,” said Steelers inside linebacker Robert Spillane. “There’s nobody like T.J. Watt. Melvin and Alex are two very high-end outside linebackers who do a good job of getting a consistent pass rush. I know that they’ll be in the lab working, getting better at their craft every day.”
Losing Watt was a big blow to the Steelers, but it was only compounded by the fact they had also lost two defensive starters on Friday as well as Alualu.
“That hurt,” Heyward said of Alualu’s injury. “To be honest with you, I wasn’t ready for that. It goes back to training in the offseason together. Getting him to stick here. Him staying around. Him working his tail off. I thought Tyson was destined for one of his best seasons. I’ve said it before, he’s the good cop to my bad cop. He settles the group down. Sometimes that can be too high or too low and he brings me back down. And he brings the team back down. I’m not going to sit here and make it a eulogy, but we’re going to miss him out on the field.”
The Steelers will look to put Sunday’s loss behind them when they host the Cincinnati Bengals at Heinz Field in week three action.