Without star outside linebacker T.J. Watt, holes are plentiful in the 2022 version of the Steel Curtain. The Steelers, who lost 29-17 on Thursday to the Browns, are now 0-6 when playing without Watt, who is recovering from a pectoral muscle injury suffered in Week 1.
The Browns rolled over the Steelers' defense, frustrating defensive tackle Cameron Heyward.
“We lost the damn game,” Heyward said in a postgame news conference. “I do not know what else is more demoralizing than that. They ran the ball, we got our ass kicked. Simple as that.”
Browns running back Nick Chubb rushed for 113 yards, driving the victory according to Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin.
“If you can’t slow down Chubb, you can’t beat this group,” he said in a postgame news conference. “We know that and didn’t get it done.”
The Browns' strong offensive performance underscored a troubling trend for the Steelers when they play without Watt.
Along with the inability to stop the run, the Steelers struggle to generate pressure without him. According to Next Gen Stats, the Steelers' pressure rate drops by 25.1 percent when Watt doesn't play, going from 39.5 percent to 14.4 percent.
On Thursday, Browns QB Jacoby Brissett was pressured on four of 33 dropbacks.
The Steelers' pass rush has struggled since losing T.J. Watt to a pectoral injury in Week 1.— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) September 23, 2022
Steelers Defense With and Without Watt (2022)
On Field: 5 sacks, 15 pressures on 38 dropbacks
Off Field: 4 sacks, 13 pressures on 90 dropbacks#PITvsCLE | #HereWeGo pic.twitter.com/nVtStkMYb7
According to NFL Network insider Ian Rapoport, the Steelers are targeting a Watt comeback in Week 8. In the meantime, the Pittsburgh defense must improve, or the team could find itself buried in the AFC North.