NFL Insider Offers Injury Updates on Steelers’ T.J. Watt, Alex Highsmith

Alex Highsmith Steelers

David Berding/Getty Images Kirk Cousins of the Minnesota Vikings throws the ball against Chris Wormley and Alex Highsmith of the Pittsburgh Steelers on December 9, 2021.

The Pittsburgh Steelers lost both starting outside linebackers to injury during Thursday night’s 36-28 loss to the Minnesota Vikings. T.J. Watt left the game in the first half with a groin issue and did not return, and Alex Highsmith suffered what was reported to be a knee injury.

T.J. Watt Rejoins The ‘Groin Club’

On Friday, Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reported that Watt suffered “just a tweak” to his groin and that there’s a chance he could play in Pittsburgh’s next game, scheduled for Sunday December 19 at 1 p.m. ET against the Tennessee Titans.

It’s not the first time that Watt has dealt with a groin injury this season. He missed the team’s Week 3 home game against the Cincinnati Bengals with a groin issue and was relatively ineffective the following week when he returned to the lineup against the Green Bay Packers. Watt also missed Pittsburgh’s Week 11 game against the Los Angeles Chargers with hip and knee injuries.

Nevertheless, Watt remains a strong contender for AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year, as he has already equaled Pittsburgh’s single-season franchise record for sacks with 16. He has also recorded 48 total tackles (35 solo), with 16 tackles for loss, 27 quarterback hits, four forced fumbles and a pair of fumble recoveries.

The Steelers have been plagued by groin injuries all season long, so much so that Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has referred to sufferers as being part of a “groin club.” It’s a group that has also included Alex Highsmith, cornerbacks Joe Haden and Cameron Sutton, inside linebacker Devin Bush, rookie defensive end Isaiahh Loudermilk and wide receiver James Washington.

Watt missed all of training camp and the 2021 preseason while he negotiated a contract extension that made him the highest-paid defender in NFL history.

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Alex Highsmith Has a ‘Bad Contusion’

Meanwhile, fellow outside linebacker Alex Highsmith also left Thursday night’s game early. Ian Rapoport indicates that the second-year linebacker “is not believed to have suffered a major injury,” per his source. “He’ll have more tests (on Friday), but early indications are it’s a bad contusion above the knee.”

With Watt and Highsmith out of the lineup for the majority of the defensive snaps against the Vikings, the Steelers turned to backups Derrek Tuszka and Taco Charlton. Tuszka, a former seventh-round pick of the Denver Broncos, played 52 defensive snaps (74%) and was in on two tackles. Charlton, a former first-round pick of the Dallas Cowboys, played 37 snaps (53%) and had four tackles (two solo), plus one quarterback hit.

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Pittsburgh’s Playoff Chances Have Dimmed

With the loss to the Vikings the Steelers are 6-6-1 with four games to play. Per ESPN staff writer Brooke Pryor, the Steelers have a mere 10% chance of making the playoffs. Pittsburgh is currently tenth in the AFC and three of its final four games are against playoff teams, namely the No. 2 ranked Titans (8-4), No. 3 ranked Baltimore Ravens (8-4) and No. 4 ranked Kansas City Chiefs (8-4).

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