The Steelers are 6-0, and while the team has had relatively good health for the season, there have been key injuries that have struck at inopportune times. Most recently, the Steelers lost Devin Bush for the season with a torn ACL.
However, he has not been the only one. Mike Hilton has missed time with a shoulder injury, Diontae Johnson has been nicked up, and Derek Watt has missed multiple games with a hamstring injury. Yet, at all spots, the Steelers have yet to miss a beat.
These are not just minor injuries either. Bush is the glue in the middle of the defense. Johnson is the shifty receiver that makes team fear the Steelers quick passing game. Hilton is the best run defending slot cornerback in the NFL and expands the Steelers’ blitz packages. Even Watt is a fantastic special teamer. Yet, the Steelers continue to chug along like nothing is wrong.
Mike Tomlin talks about the “next man up” mentality every week when it comes to the health of his team. The Steelers work through replacing their injured guys and getting them the replacements up to speed quickly. Even still, this is a mentality that is much easier said than done. Raw talent is hard to replace, especially when these are inexperienced, young players that are stepping in for those key contributors.
However, as the Steelers have shown in the past two weeks, Bush’s injury thus far has yet to be felt. Robert Spillane, a former undrafted free agent out of Western Michigan, has stepped in well. Playing on base downs, Spillane’s physicality and football IQ have been key in his standout performance. He has even shown he has more athleticism than anticipated. His big hit on Derrick Henry on Sunday was just the icing on the cake for a strong two weeks for Spillane.
Ulysees Gilbert III stepped into the other part of Bush’s role, which is sub-packages. Gilbert is now working in that role, and while not tested all that much on Sunday, Gilbert looked rather solid. Most importantly, he has the same speed and rare athleticism for the position that Bush presents.
With Johnson banged up this year, Chase Claypool and James Washington have jumped in at random times to step up in a big way. When Johnson was hurt early in Week 5 against the Eagles, Claypool stepped in and was the unsung hero. Against Cleveland, both Claypool and Washington had a touchdown.
Cam Sutton played a tremendous game in the absence of Hilton against Tennessee. With a near interception and two pass deflections, it was undeniable that Sutton had a strong game. Working as both a slot corner and in his usual dimebacker role, Sutton’s football smarts were on display the entire game. He worked as a deep third safety, yet again as well.
Justin Layne came into the game in those dime package sets as well. With Steven Nelson kicking inside, it was Layne who was tasked with guarding the boundary. In fact, in his limited snaps, Layne held his own. On the final drive by the Titans, Layne was mostly tasked with covering A.J. Brown, and he shut him down. While not targeted, if Layne had been targeted, he would have been in an excellent position to make a play. It was simply clear that Layne’s length was disruptive and an issue.
As for Watt’s injury, the Steelers have used both Trey Edmunds, Jaylen Samuels, and even Henry Mondeaux to replace his production on offense. As lead blockers, both Edmunds and Mondeaux have cleared lanes for goal-line touchdowns. Samuels took over Watt’s wingback role and secured himself a jet sweep on Sunday. It is a position that has been filled by committee, but an effective one at that.
All of that is to say, the season has thrown rolling punches the Steelers way, but they have stayed resilient. All these young guys stepping into bigger roles have played at a high-level. That shows this team buys into the next man up mentality that Tomlin instills in the locker room. This is further proof of Tomlin’s leadership skills to sell this mentality to the locker and get them all to buy-in.
In addition, it is a credit to all the position coaches. They are coaching these guys up during the week to get them ready for the big stage, and so far all of them have come through in a big way. The biggest example of this is when David DeCastro was injured not once, but twice, and Kevin Dotson came into the game with no problems. The Steelers did not miss a beat with Dotson at the helm. Zach Banner tore his ACL and Chuks Okorafor has been fantastic in his absence. Offensive Line Coach Shaun Sarrett deserves a lot of praise to get these guys up to speed. The players are buying into the mentality.
All across the roster from the defense to the offense and even special teams, the Steelers’ backups have filled in well every time they have been asked to do so. That is rare for any NFL team to have in a given season. However, thanks to great leadership from Tomlin, high-level position coaching, and buy-in mentality from the players, the Steelers have overcome injuries with the next man up mentality.
Without the mentality, it is hard to see the Steelers being 6-0 right now. It is the gift that keeps on giving and going forward, it is hard to see it not paying dividends for a talented, but still somewhat young team down the stretch.
JuJu Smith-Schuster Delivers Meals to Seniors on Thanksgiving
With his team suddenly off, Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster spent his Thanksgiving morning giving back to the Pittsburgh community.
Smith-Schuster — along with his dog, Boujee — helped deliver meals to less fortunate seniors in Pittsburgh on Thursday.
“It’s always been a passion in my heart,” Smith-Schuster said. “I think it’s huge when people give back.”
Steelers’ JuJu Smith-Schuster delivers meals to seniors on Thanksgiving pic.twitter.com/bEClYxPvrO
— JoAnne Harrop (@joannescoop) November 26, 2020
The Steelers aren’t playing on Thursday because their scheduled game with the Baltimore Ravens was pushed back to Sunday due to a COVID-19 outbreak with the Ravens.
After the team practiced Tuesday and Wednesday in anticipation of a Thursday kickoff, head coach Mike Tomlin gave the team the day off on Thursday.
Steelers President Art Rooney II Extends Thanks, Appreciation to Fans
On the heels of such an unpleasant day for many Steelers fans, and even a day that left several players filled with bitterness and animosity because their game was postponed, Steelers president Art Rooney II issued a statement on Thanksgiving morning.
In the spirit of giving thanks and moving on, Rooney expressed his disappointment about the current situation and his appreciation for the support of all of Steelers Nation.
“Though we are disappointed that we will not get to play for our fans on Thanksgiving night this year, we look forward to many more exciting times during the 2020 season,” Rooney said. “Today gives us all a time to reflect and appreciate what we can be thankful for on this holiday. And I want to add a special note of thanks to all our frontline workers for all your tireless efforts in these difficult times.”
— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) November 26, 2020
Barring no more issues, Pittsburgh and Baltimore are now scheduled to kickoff at 1:15 pm EST. Just as the game would’ve been Thursday night, it will be broadcast on NBC.
Steelers Tops Among All Teams in Pro Bowl Votes; T.J. Watt Leads OLBs
The Pittsburgh Steelers lead all NFL clubs in votes cast for the 2021 NFL Pro Bowl, the league announced on Wednesday, with outside linebacker T.J. Watt the top vote-getter at his position.
The Steelers led all teams in votes, followed by the Kansas City Chiefs, Seattle Seahawks, Green Bay Packers and Buffalo Bills, and did so despite not having any players in the top five overall vote-getters and just two players leading at their position.
Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes has the most votes of any individual player, with 143,355 votes, followed by Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook, Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce and Arizona Cardinals wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins.
For the Steelers, Watt leads all vote-getters at outside linebacker with 69,924 votes. Watt is a two-time Pro Bowler and is coming off a first-team All-Pro season in 2019. He’s currently tied for third in the NFL with nine sacks, one-half behind leaders Trey Hendrickson of New Orleans and Myles Garrett of Cleveland. Khalil Mack of the Chicago Bears paced the NFC’s outside linebackers with 47,689 votes.
The Steelers’ other top vote-getter comes at an unusual position. Long snapper Kameron Canaday leads all AFC long snappers with 48,869 votes. Canaday, in his fifth NFL season and fourth with the Steelers, has never made the Pro Bowl.
While the teams will still be selected, the 2021 NFL Pro Bowl will not be played. Instead the Pro Bowl events will be led virtually and the game will be streamed via Madden NFL 21. The game had been scheduled to be played at Allegiant Stadium in las Vegas on Jan. 31. Voting will continue through Dec. 17.