Tim Benz: Amid confusing reports of TJ Watt injury, 1 thing should be clear to Steelers fans

It seems like every time Pittsburgh Steelers fans take to Twitter, there’s a cloudy new report about the status of TJ Watt’s chest injury.

On Monday afternoon, NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport said Watt didn’t expect a firm word on his status until Tuesday and that his prognosis could be anywhere from a brief weeks-long rehab to a operation that could “knock him out until at least the end”. of the season.”

On Monday night, Rapoport updated that outlook to about six weeks on the shelf, without surgery.

CBS’ Jonathan Jones hears “optimism” that Watt could be back in a month.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter has Watt’s absence between six weeks and the rest of the season depending on whether surgery is deemed necessary.

Let’s just sum up all these possibilities for the Steelers: It’s somewhere between really bad and a death knell for the season.

As confusing as the medical reports are, the one thing that baffles me the most is how hard some people are working to mitigate what Watt’s absence is going to mean for the Steelers.

Throughout the offseason, Pittsburgh fans and members of the media told anyone who would listen that Watt should be the Defensive Player of the Year over Aaron Donald and Micah Parsons because no defensive player has more impact on his team than Watt. After all, the team record when Watt was inactive or leaving a game early was 0-4-1. They were 9-3 in games where he played all around.

In fact, I’d go further and say that in those losses where Watt has played in full — road games in Cincinnati, Green Bay, and Kansas City — he’s gutted it and played compromised with lingering injuries from the previous week.

So those arguments were true. Watt was all that was vital to the success or failure of the Steelers.

“TJ does abnormal things that few other people can do,” Steelers defensive captain Cameron Heyward said Monday.

Yet now I’m told (as in a recent edition of WPXI’s Last Word) that Pittsburgh fans shouldn’t be so worried because the Steelers traded to the Denver Broncos outside of linebacker Malik Reed and, you know, “the next man up” n’ to!

“I’m ready for sure,” Reed said of the challenge of replacing Watt. “I’m definitely ready for this and ready to embrace it.”

I like Reid. It was a good pickup. A valuable depth player. Maybe even a capable starter. But it’s a far cry from “able starter” Defensive Player of the Year.

Many fans have argued that the Steelers would have been better than their 9-7-1 record last year if Watt could have avoided missing as much playing time as he did. But now he’s going to miss even more games than that, not to mention Najee Harris’ injury.

And am I still supposed to believe more than nine wins for the Steelers? How will this work, exactly?

The other starting outside linebacker, Alex Highsmith, had a great game Sunday in Cincinnati with three sacks. Will he be able to replicate Watt’s production, however, if he’s the one to be the focal point of blocking plans for opposing offensive coordinators?

In other words, be Batman instead of Robin.

“I just try to come in and do my job; do my best,” Highsmith said Monday. “I know he will work hard to get back as soon as possible.”

One thing that’s frustrating about the timing of Watt’s injury (and Harris as well) is that over the next three weeks the Steelers have what looks like three very winnable games against the Patriots, Browns and the Jets.

At least winnable based on the dominating defense I saw Sunday in Cincinnati. If that defense can harass a Super Bowl-worthy offense like the Bengals — one that put 65 points on the board in two games against the Steelers last year — coordinator Teryl Austin should be able to build a pretty game plan. good to swallow these three misdemeanors.

The Patriots scored just seven points in their first game. The Jets only had nine. The Browns went 26 against a poor Carolina Panthers team, but they were one-dimensional, getting 217 of their 355 rushing yards.

With Watt injured, however, the matchups will become much more even. Not to mention how things will look for the Steelers when they have to travel to Buffalo in Week 5 and host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 6, assuming Watt is still out of the game. training by then.

The Steelers just stole a win from Cincinnati; one that most fans hadn’t anticipated trying to find nine or 10 wins on the schedule en route to avoiding the franchise’s first losing season since 2003. If they return a loss or two they shouldn’t because Watt is out, that The Bengals’ exhilarating surprise in overtime on Sunday won’t matter as much.

It’s not just in terms of wins and losses that we actively err when it comes to Watt. I remember when TribLIVE’s Mark Madden questioned aspects of granting Watt a $112 million contract extension, in part because of his brother JJ Watt’s long history of serious injuries. A lot of people told him that was an unfair comparison to make, just because they’re brothers.

Yet suddenly everyone seems to be hanging on hope that TJ can replicate JJ’s eight-week performance of pec torn in 2019.

I guess in this respect making a brother-brother comparison is quite valid, isn’t it?

Look, I don’t blame the people of Pittsburgh for living in hope. Watt is such an exciting player, I also want to see him again as soon as possible. And I’m not telling anyone to give up the season just after a week.

What I’m saying is that — however long he’s been gone — there’s a reality to Watt’s injury that Steelers fans have to come to terms with. Whether they choose to do it now or if they need to see it with their own eyes is up to them, but Watt’s absence will negatively impact the team’s record.

Denying what we all witnessed when he was often sidelined a season ago won’t help.

Tim Benz is a staff writer for Tribune-Review. You can contact Tim at tbenz@triblive.com or via Twitter. All tweets could be reposted. All emails are subject to publication unless otherwise specified.

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