Pittsburgh Steelers edge rusher T.J. Watt walked off the field after the regular-season opener with a sack, six tackles and a victory over the Cincinnati Bengals. He also walked away from that game with a torn pectoral muscle and hasn’t played since.
This might be the week he returns.
The NFL Defensive Player of the Year last season is on the precipice of possibly, perhaps even probably, playing soon. Watt and the Steelers are shooting for Sunday’s home game against the New Orleans Saints.
“Hopefully this week,” Watt said Tuesday during a pep talk to the McKeesport High School football team ahead of the Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League quarterfinals, according to PG Sports Now.
He’s not alone.
Steelers T.J. Watt Could Be Gameday Decision
The Steelers are returning to practice Wednesday en masse following their bye week and coach Mike Tomlin talked to reporters about Watt and safety Damontae Kazee will be monitored as they get closer to being game-ready.
Kazee is definitely coming off the injured reserve list this week. Watt will definitely come off next week, but is trying to get back one week earlier.
“We’ve been optimistic about their inclusion this week,” Tomlin said of both players. “But again, we’ve got some work ahead of us and got some reaction to that work [to gauge], how they feel coming off of the work, etcetera.
“So, we’ll just continue to monitor those guys and make appropriate decisions regarding them as we get closer to game time.”
That, in coach speak, means Watt is so close he could be a gameday decision.
And, understanding what Watt is about, he’ll be pushing to make certain the decision is he plays. Because Watt wants to help his team.
The problem is the team Watt is returning to is barely recognizable from the one he left after the season-opening victory.
Steelers Have Struggled Since Opener
The Steelers are 2-6 now.
They’ve lost six of seven without Watt. They had a change at starting quarterback. And they’re in last place in the AFC North.
You bet the landscape has changed. It has way more weeds than it did before Watt left.
So the obvious question is can the season be salvaged? And can Watt lead the effort?
“I just think that remains to be seen,” Tomlin said, still talking of both Watt and Kazee. “I think I’ll let their contributions speak for themselves, but obviously those are two veteran players that are NFL capable, and obviously, they’re going to be positive contributors to our efforts if available.”
There’s no denying the Steelers would be different and better with Watt, who collected 22.5 sacks, 39 quarterback hurries, forced five fumbles and recovered three fumbles last season.
There’s no denying a team that has lost three of its games by four points or less might have seen different results with its difference maker in the lineup.
But rally and make the playoffs different?
Hard to fathom.
The Steelers allowed 1.2 points per game less last season with Watt in the lineup for 15 games compared to this year with Watt missing seven games. That ain’t nothin’.
But it’s not a season defining difference.
Watt would definitely be a help if he gives his team a couple of strip sacks in opponent territory to set up short fields for his offense.
But the Steelers are playing rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett and rookie receiver George Pickens and the offensive line still performs like a project at times. And Watt can’t do anything about that.
One thing Watt definitely affects is the energy of the team.
“Honestly,” defensive back Arthur Maulet said, “for everybody, he makes it a whole lot different. You’ve got an MVP guy, right? But also just the work he puts in, it’s just second to none.”
So, yes, Watt returning would be a big boost that could turn if not save the season.
“We,” Tomlin said, “eagerly await his return.”