Steelers HC Mike Tomlin Has Blunt Response on T.J. Watt’s Return

Getty Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin talks with T.J. Watt.

Update: Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker T.J. Watt had arthroscopic knee surgery that’s expected to delay his return another one to two weeks, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

The saying goes: You don’t know what you have ’til it’s gone. The Pittsburgh Steelers know full well what they have in reigning Defensive Player of the Year T.J. Watt, but when he’s gone, they REALLY know.

Pittsburgh literally can’t win without him.

In the seven games Watt’s missed in his six-year career, the Steelers haven’t a win. They’re 0-7 without Watt, allowing 26 points per game and averaging fewer than 2.0 sacks per game. With Watt, it’s a whole different story, as Pittsburgh has a 52-24-2 record with 20 points per game allowed and 3.5 sacks.

Watt suffered a partially torn pectoral muscle in the Steelers’ only win of the season — the September 11 season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals. Four days later, on September 15, Pittsburgh placed him on injured reserve, meaning he would miss a minimum of four games while rehabbing. That clock started on the Week 2 New England Patriots game and could end after the October 9 Buffalo Bills game.

It’s been reported Watt could miss six weeks, but he is a Watt, and Watts are known to miraculously recover faster than your typical athlete.

In typical Mike Tomlin fashion, he had his poker face on when prompted on T.J. Watt’s return.

In Tomlin’s October 4 press conference, ESPN’s Brooke Pryor asked, “T.J.’s still on I.R., and he has a couple weeks left on there, but what is his progress like at this point?”

Tomlin bluntly replied, “He’s on I.R., and he has a couple weeks still left on there.”

Pryor led him right into that response.

T.J. Watt’s Speculated ‘Setback’

A guest on 93.7 The Fan’s The Cook & Joe Show, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Ray Fittipaldo speculated that T.J. Watt had suffered some type of setback.

“I wanna say, last Wednesday, he was out there working,” Fittipaldo said. “He was visible at practice and, since then, hasn’t been at practice. I didn’t put eyes on him at the Jets game, so a lot of people are putting two and two together, and I’m in that camp. I think some sort of setback occurred with his rehab. So, I don’t think he’s going to be a candidate to come off I.R. next week, even though he’s eligible.”

Mike Tomlin and the Steelers are tight-lipped on injuries, especially those who aren’t technically part of the 53-man roster. He’s certainly not going to be open about T.J. Watt. So anything that’s reported about Watt right now is pure speculation.

No T.J. Watt, Big Problem

While some have predicted the Pittsburgh Steelers were better prepared for a potential T.J. Watt injury in 2022 than in 2021, it hasn’t turned out that way.

It’s been great witnessing the progression of Alex Highsmith, who has clearly made the third-year leap. Highsmith is second in the league (behind San Fransisco 49ers Nick Bosa) with 5.5 sacks and has generated 16 pressures through Week 4.

Malik Reed, a player Pittsburgh traded for in the preseason for linebacker depth, and was thrust into starting duty after Watt’s injury, has failed to make an impact. Two more recent linebacker signings are Jamir Jones and David Anenih. Though behind Highsmith on the depth chart, Jones has actually played fewer snaps in Watt’s absence. Anenih has not yet been activated since Pittsburgh signed him on September 15.