On Tuesday Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin indicated that Mason Rudolph would start in place of Ben Roethlisberger on Sunday vs. the Cleveland Browns. According to Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Steelers have now identified three other starters who will be “air mailed” to the postseason (and won’t play against the Browns): Outside linebacker T.J. Watt, defensive end Cam Heyward and center Maurkice Pouncey.
Yesterday Tomlin indicated that the decision on which players to rest would be dictated by player availability at individual position groups. But that doesn’t necessarily appear to be the rationale that was applied. For example, resting T.J. Watt makes an already thin position group even thinner.
Of course, it’s perfectly understandable that the Steelers don’t want to expose Watt and Heyward to the risk of injury, as those are the team’s two best players on defense. However, it might compromise Watt’s case for being Defensive Player of the Year, which is perhaps why Tomlin went out of his way to make a case for Watt at his press conference on Tuesday, referring to him as “visiting from another planet.”
It also means Watt might not finish the 2020 season as the league leader in sacks; he has 15, while Aaron Donald of the Los Angeles Rams has 13.5, followed by three players with 12.5 sacks, followed by Myles Garrett of the Browns, who has twelve. Watt also won’t have the opportunity to break the franchise record for most sacks in a season (16), which is held by James Harrison.
Other Steelers Starters May See Limited Playing Time
Meanwhile, there’s another group of veterans that figure to start against the Browns but may play a limited number of snaps. That group includes guard David DeCastro and left tackle Alejandro Villanueva. On defense, those players include cornerback Joe Haden and safety Minkah Fitzpatrick.
The Steelers might also try to avoid overtaxing placekicker Chris Boswell, who has been hampered by hip and groin injuries in recent weeks. That’s assuming Boswell plays in the game and isn’t replaced by practice squad kicker Matthew Wright, who has already subbed in for Boswell twice this season.
Fans at Heinz Field During the Postseason?
Meanwhile, it’s not yet clear whether the Steelers will be able to have fans at Heinz Field during the postseason.
According to Brooke Pryor of ESPN, the team is working with public health officials and an announcement is likely at least several days away.
to clarify, the *hope* is that there will be fans at Heinz Field, but still some things to get sorted out to make that happen. https://t.co/A8e0OyzCRg
— Brooke Pryor (@bepryor) December 31, 2020
Cleveland Browns Facing COVID-19 Outbreak?
Finally, in other news that could affect the competitive balance of Sunday’s game, two more Browns players tested positive for the virus on Wednesday morning. So for the second morning in a row, the team’s practice facility was closed in the wake of contact tracing.
At the moment, Cleveland has nine rostered players on its Reserve/COVID-19 list, as well as two practice squad players.
The Browns are hopeful that many of those players, including the four wide receivers who missed last week’s loss to the New York Jets (Rashard Higgins, KhaDarel Hodge, Jarvis Landry and Donovan Peoples-Jones), will be back in time to play the Steelers.
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