The Steelers 24-17 victory over the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday did not come without a price.
The team lost four starters to injuries that did not return to the game, piling on to an injured list that already saw six players miss the game with injuries.
Defensive end Stephon Tuitt suffered a pectoral injury in the first half with, while running back James Conner (quad), cornerback Joe Haden (groin) and outside linebacker T.J. Watt (oblique) were injured in the second half.
Cornerback Steve Nelson (groin), fullback Roosevelt Nix (knee), quarterback Mason Rudolph (concussion), running back Jaylen Samuels (knee surgery) and wide receiver James Washington (left AC joint) all did not dress due to injuries.
That left the Steelers significantly undermanned as the Chargers attempted a second-half comeback after Pittsburgh raced out to a 24-0 lead.
“That’s kind of the story of the night, man,” Tomlin said. “Some guys stepped up and stepped up in a big way. We live by the creed, ‘the standard is the standard,’ but those are are just words. The play of the guys make that reality. We got a lot of quality efforts tonight from a lot of people.”
Tyson Alualu filled in for Tuitt at defensive end and finished with three tackles and a pass deflection that led to a Devin Bush interception.
At running back, rookie Benny Snell spelled Conner throughout with Jaylen Samuels on the shelf and then took the entire load down the stretch with Conner on the sideline. Snell rushed 17 times for 45 yards and caught once pass for 14 yards.
In the secondary, Artie Burns made his first start of the season in place of Nelson and when Haden went down in the second half, Cameron Sutton moved from slot corner to the outside. He performed well there breaking up a pass in the end zone and making the game-sealing interception.
With the number and significance of the Steelers’ injuries, it’s safe to say that their bye week is coming at a good time. The team is off Monday and will return to work Tuesday and Wednesday before taking five days off.
Highlights of Alex Highsmith at Steelers Practice 12/4/20
The Steelers take to the practice field for the first time in over a week to now prepare for their upcoming game against the Washington Football Team on Monday evening. This clip shows Alex Highsmith, who will see additional time with Bud Dupree out for the season, going through drills.
Footage courtesy Pittsburgh Steelers
T.J. Watt Continues Torrid 2020 Season with AFC Defensive Player of the Month Award for November
Steelers linebacker T.J. Watt has been named the AFC’s Defensive Player of the Month for November, the NFL announced on Friday morning.
Watt was also AFC Player of the Month in September of this year and continues to be a top candidate for the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year.
In November, Watt recorded 18 tackles, 5.5 sacks, 17 quarterbacks and defended three passes. Throughout the entire season, he leads the NFL with 11 sacks and 19 tackles for loss, on pace to exceed all of his totals from his Pro Bowl season in 2019.
“He studies the game,” Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler said on Friday. “He’s always up there looking at film, grabbing film when he can, getting in some of the coaches offices and looking at film on his on his opponents.”
The Steelers will need to lean on Watt even more after the loss of his cohort at outside linebacker, Bud Dupree, for the rest of the season, but that doesn’t mean that it’s going to be easy for other teams to key on No. 90 in black and gold.
“This guy studies the game and it’s a constant thing for him to do, because the game changes quite a bit,” Butler said. “It’s going to change from one week to the other. The more you do the same thing in this league, people are going to find you out. And so, he’s trying to, again, do stuff different and keep on top of his opponent. That’s probably the best thing that he does.
“I think he uses his mind as well as anybody.”
With Bud Dupree Out, Mike Tomlin ‘Comfortable and Confident’ with Rookie Alex Highsmith at OLB
One of the most enduring of Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin’s famous saying has been “next man up.”
That mantra will be put to the test in a big way for the Steelers defense, as Tomlin confirmed on Thursday that outside linebacker Bud Dupree will miss the rest of the season with a “significant” knee injury suffered Wednesday evening against the Baltimore Ravens.
The next man up will be rookie outside linebacker Alex Highsmith. In 11 professional games since the Steelers drafted him out of UNC Charlotte in the third round of the 2020 NFL Draft, Highsmith has recorded 20 tackles, three tackles for loss and one sack. Thus far, Highsmith has worked as a rotational backup to Dupree and T.J. Watt, and also as the fifth linebacker in a 2-5 package the Steelers have been using. Now, Tomlin is expecting him to step up into a starting role, and he’s confident he’ll be able to.
“I’m just as comfortable and confident as I was in Robert Spillane when we called upon him, or Kevin Dotson, when we called upon him on the other side of the ball,” Tomlin said on Thursday. “That’s life in this business. Those guys work behind the scenes every day, very diligently preparing themselves for these opportunities, not only in terms of knowing what to do, but just preparing themselves in terms of conditioning for when we ring their bell.
“And we are ringing Alex Highsmith’s bell now, so it will be exciting to watch him respond to it. But it’ll also be exciting to watch his growth, because growth is associated with experience, and no doubt in the upcoming weeks, he’s going to be gaining a lot of that.”
Part of Tomlin’s confidence stems from the fact that while Highsmith is a rookie, he’s an older, more experienced player than most NFL rookies.
“In the interview process, I was really impressed with his maturity,” Tomlin said. “But you know, that’s not surprising given that he was a fifth-year senior. Oftentimes, we’re not drafting a lot of fifth-year seniors these days, so he had a maturity level that was beyond where he is in this process. But he’s probably older than most rookies.”
At 23, Highsmith is older that fellow rookies Chase Claypool and Anthony McFarland Jr. and is even older than second-year players Justin Layne and Benny Snell and third-year players Ola Adeniyi and Chukwuma Okorafor.
So while the Steelers will be leaning on an inexperienced linebacker, they won’t necessarily be leaning on an immature one.