Steelers Win 23-20 in OT, But Lose Two Stars: All Attention on TJ Watt and Najee Harris This Monday

By Jeremy Hritz

The Steelers won in dramatic, and potentially tragic fashion, yesterday against the Cincinnati Bengals, 23-20, in overtime to start the season with a win and 1-0 in the AFC North. Divisional wins are hard to come by, and kicking things off with one puts the team in good shape for the year to come. However, counterbalancing the positivity are injuries to TJ Watt and Najee Harris, both of which could be significant, and they have Steelers Nation holding their collective breath. As we wait for hopefully good news, here are my initial thoughts on the game this Monday morning.

  • The entire Steelers defense was on fire yesterday in ever facet: pass rush, coverage, run defense. You name it, they did it. It was a unified effort that provides tremendous optimism for the 2022 season.
  • Starting with the defense, Minkah Fitzpatrick made his first case for Defensive Player of the Year, kicking things off with a pick-6, following that up with strong run defense, and then coming up with a huge extra point block in overtime. It was a special performance across the board, and if this is a sample of what’s to come from Fitzpatrick, look out.
  • Alex Highsmith started year #3 with 3 sacks and demonstrated that he has taken steps in improving his game and being an effective pass rusher opposite Watt. If Watt is injured for any significant period of time, Highsmith will be called upon to be the premier edge rusher on this defense, and will need to step up even more. Great game for this up-and-comer, and excited about what his 2022 will look like.
  • Kudos to the entire Steelers secondary for high-quality play across the board. I was skeptical about the performance of the cornerbacks, but both Cam Sutton and Ahkello Witherspoon played well and recorded interceptions. I know some have been critical about Witherspoon because of the yardage given up to JaMarr Chase, but remember that Chase is one of the best receivers in the league. I was encouraged by Witherspoon’s play, and you should be too, because it appears the Steelers have found a true #1 CB.
  • Cameron Heyward and the defensive line also had solid games, including Larry Ogunjobi who was active and bursty, recording a tackle for loss. Tyson Alualu showed why he was missed so much last season, and Heyward picked up a sack.
  • As critical as I have been of Devin Bush, props to him for his performance yesterday. It wasn’t out-of-this-world, but for Bush, it was solid, and it gives hope that he can turn the corner this year. His inside partner, Myles Jack, played with purpose, racking up 10 total tackles, including 1 for loss and a defensed pass.
  • You can see I’m just listing position by position here on defense, but they were that good. I mean, THAT good.
  • And finally, Watt picked up where he left off last season, finishing with 6 tackles, 1 sack, 3 tackles for loss, 2 passes defended, and 1 interception. Just wow. On the play he was injured, he walked off the field, and he could be seen saying, “I tore my pec.” If this is the case, he potentially could be lost for the season, which would be a massive blow to not just the defense, but the entire team. On a Study Session last week, I talked about the 2 players who the Steelers could not afford to lose to injury, and both of them were hurt yesterday. Let’s hope the MRIs come back negative, and we get more good news later today.
  • Offensively, there is much to be desired, but we knew this coming into the season. Mitch Trubisky was OK, but made plays when needed in overtime to put the team in position for the win. Whether it was Matt Canada’s decision, or Trubisky being conservative, there were not many throws down the field, and this was something I was concerned about regarding Trubisky when he was signed this offseason. If there is no threat of passes down the field, defenses will overload the run and play the short passing game. Have to open things up more, but it’s early.
  • The offensive line was just OK, and held up fairly well versus the Bengals pass rush, yet they got no push in the running game. Still work to do here, but don’t give up on them just yet.
  • Pat Freiermuth was the best player on offense, coming up with a huge catch in overtime. Freiermuth caught 5 passes for 75 yards and showed he is ready to make even bigger contributions to this offense. I expect him to be even more involved in the offense next week against the Patriots.
  • Chase Claypool, while he didn’t have an impressive stat line, made a few good catches, and contributed to the running game on several end arounds. Solid showing for Claypool in the first game of his third season.
  • And like Watt, let’s hope Harris is OK. He already overcame the Lis Franc injury, and now it seems he has a high ankle sprain. Even before the injury, he did not look explosive. Is his initial injury healed?

With week #1 in the books, the Steelers now prepare for the New England Patriots at Acrisure Stadium. The Patriots suffered their own big injury to Mac Jones, so he status for the game is murky. With a chance to begin the season 2-0, this is a big week of preparation for the team. Prayers up to Watt and Harris–make it a great week!


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