With new faces on Steelers defense, goal remains the same
The NFL pre-season ends this weekend, and for the Pittsburgh Steelers, they plan to host the Detroit Lions in Week 3 at Acrisure Stadium. Throughout the abbreviated preseason, the defense has had one singular goal – to stop the run. Have they always been successful in this regard? No, but that does not change their purpose.
In the week 1 game against the Seattle Seahawks, a game that saw the likes of Cam Heyward, Larry Ogunjobi, TJ Watt and Tyson Alualu all rest, they gave up 159 rushing yards. In last Saturday’s Week 2 game against the Jacksonville Jaguarsthe defense improved, with the additions of Watt, Ogunjobi and Alualu, allowing just 97 yards on the ground.
While the fan base would like to see a return to the stifling defenses of the early 2000s, the goal remains the same for this 2022 unit.
“It starts with stopping the race,” Watt told reporters Thursday after practice. “We know what we can do here when we get our ears back and tackle the quarterback. It’s about getting off to a good start and continuing in the right direction as the season progresses. »
While improvement was evident in Jacksonville, more help could be on the way as early as Sunday. That would come in the form of defensive captain Cam Heyward returning to the lineup. It’s unclear if Heyward will play on Sunday, but he’s moving in the right direction after injuring his ankle in training ahead of the Week 2 contest.
In addition to bringing Heyward back to the field, the Steelers have a group of new faces who are being asked to improve on the product the team has presented in 2021.
“I think the staff did a great job of setting up the new guys,” Watt said. “The new guys have gotten used to what we’re doing here. As we film together more and more, play together, we’re all going to be better.
Improvement is key, especially early in the season, and at Watt’s primary outside linebacker position, the team is dangerously thin. Sure, with Watt, you have a one-man wrecking crew on the outside, but after Watt, nothing is certain. Alex Highsmith continues to miss time with a rib injury, Derrek Tuszka has replaced Highsmith and after Genard Avery’s release the defense is looking for answers at the post.
One player who could be an answer is rookie Hamilcar Rashed. Rashed was an undrafted rookie free agent (UDFA) on Oregon State which was signed by the New York Jets after the 2022 NFL Draft. The Steelers signed Rashed’s waivers, and he was noticed by coaches and players alike.
“He’s got good juice to him, plays the run well,” Watt said of the Oregon State freshman linebacker. “He also shares the same outside coach I had in college. Just being able to translate some things as we called it in college and as we call it here has been nice. I think he has a good juice, a good hobby package too and I think he can do good things for us.
This begs the question of how much knowledge the 2021 Defensive Player of the Year winner bestows on the young players on the list. As Watt says, he’s an open book, but players have to want his knowledge.
“I’ve always said I’m an open book for these guys,” Watt explained. “Any questions they have, I’m ready to help anyone get better if they want help.
“I’m never going to push what I know and my experience on people, but if they want to ask me, I’m always going to be an open book and never have a problem trying to help a young man.”
When you look at Watt’s meteoric rise through the NFL ranks since being drafted in 2017, his teammates would be foolish not to search for his brains as much as possible. Still, if there’s one aspect of Watt’s game that hopefully rubs off across the defensive front, it’s the ability to stop the run. After all, it all starts there.
Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest Steelers news and notes as they prepare for the Detroit Lions this Sunday, and the Cincinnati Bengals in week 1 of the regular season.