The Pittsburgh Steelers defense took a huge blow with the loss of TJ Watt from his torn peck injury. The good news is Watt will only miss six weeks, rather than the entire season as was originally feared. The bad news of course is that six weeks is a significant chunk of an NFL season. There are things the Steelers can do to mitigate the loss of Watt however. Here are five options Pittsburgh has to deal with the loss of their best defensive player:
1. Blitz more:
Obviously making up for the amount of sacks and pressures that TJ Watt provides is no easy task. There is no one player on this roster who can make up for that kind of production. In order replace that pressure, the Steelers may look to blitz more than they have in recent years.
In case you haven’t noticed, this team has dialed down the blitzing that they became famous for under Keith Butler. They have been successful getting to get to the quarterback with just four in the past two seasons. With Watt out however, the team may have to go back to some of their old tricks with some exotic blitzes to keep quarterbacks under pressure. We were never really big fans of Keith Butler as defensive coordinator. What he did really well is design successful blitz packages, which is a skill we hope passed down to Teryl Austin now. Don’t be fooled: Keith Butler has not suddenly become a good coordinator
2. Run the ball better:
A better run game, and therefore more time of possession, can help the overall defensive play immensely. The Steelers lost the time of possession battle by a 26 to 43 margin on Sunday versus the Bengals. That is a number that simply is not sustainable by a fully healthy Steelers defense, let alone one missing it’s biggest star.
Running the ball helps in two days. It prevents opposing offenses from scoring when they were unable to get on the field, and it keeps a somewhat depleted defense fresh for the entire game. These are two “must haves” for this team going forward if they are to survive six weeks without TJ Watt.
3. Play coverage:
The Steelers could chose to do the exact opposite of our first suggestion, and play more conservative zone coverages. Commit no more than three or four to the pass rush, leaving seven and eight men in coverage in the hopes of dealing with the loss of TJ Watt that way. This bend, but not break style of defense can be extremely frustrating to watch. It would not be our preferred method, but one that definitely could be the Steelers solution on defense.
4. Try something out of the box:
Let’s face it, the current obvious replacements for TJ Watt are less than exciting. Malik Reed and Jamir Jones have very defined ceilings as pass rushers in this league. Why not try something outside the box like moving DeMarvin Leal to the edge on obvious passing downs. He did play there some at Texas A+M, and did it fairly well. He finished with eight and a half sacks in his final season in college. It’s worth a flyer for the Steelers. Leal could end up considerably better than the other two options the Steelers have at the moment.
5. Go get somebody:
The final option for the Steelers would be to go out and get a veteran edge rusher off the scrap heap. Grab someone with a pedigree, and hope they can hit lightning in a bottle. The names out there available right now are player like Dee Ford, Jason Pierre-Paul, and Takk McKinley. One player to maybe keep an eye on is former Steeler Taco Charlton. He was released from the Saints practice squad a few weeks ago, and is currently a free agent.