Unsurprisingly, Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt has set the franchise record for most sacks in the first three games of the season with six. That pace — which would beat his NFL single-season record pace by 50% if carried over a year — is incredible. But what Alex Highsmith has done on the other side of the Steelers’ defense has nearly been its equal.
Coming into this season, only two players in Steelers history, dating back to when the sack became an official statistic in 1982, had more than four in the team’s first three games of the season. Chad Brown had 4.5 in 1995 and Ed Nelson set the record with five in 1984.
Watt has obviously eclipsed Nelson’s record, but Highsmith nearly did, too. The Steelers’ outside linebacker understudy has 4.5 sacks through three weeks. If not for Watt’s assault on the stat sheet, we might be talking more about Highsmith’s historic start to the 2023 season.
Furthermore, while Watt was feasting on a first-time start in San Francisco 49ers right tackle Colton McKivitz and a rookie in Cleveland Browns replacement Dawand Jones, Highsmith had to deal with All-Pro Trent Williams and former top 10 pick Jedrick Wills the first two weeks.
“I think he’s done great,” defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said. “He’s really good. He’s caused some pressures. He’s going up against their best linemen all the time. I can’t say enough about Alex Highsmith. He’s going to work his butt off, and those things and the sacks are going to come. But really what he’s doing for our team with those two edge rushing guys, both those guys, they’re unbelievable.”
Highsmith has also contributed some of the splash-heavy Steelers defense’s biggest splash moments this season. He essentially singlehandedly beat the Browns, with his first-play pick six and fourth-quarter strip sack that sealed the victory.
“When T.J. Watt gets help from a guy like Highsmith, it’s almost unfair,” Houston Texans head coach DeMeco Ryans said this week.
The tandem assault on the Steelers and NFL record books will likely continue. The Texans are without starting tackles Laremy Tunsil and Tytus Howard and without backup tackle Josh Jones.
Veteran George Fant will man the right side, but this time, it’s Highsmith’s turn to feast on the unproven, as former sixth-round pick Austin Deculus will be making not only his first start, but taking his first NFL regular season snap against Highsmith on Sunday.