Steelers Rule Out 2 Key Starters, TJ Watt Questionable vs. Bengals

Ben Roethlisberger Diontae Johnson

Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers checks on injured teammate Diontae Johnson during the game against the Buffalo Bills on September 12, 2021.

On Friday afternoon, September 24, the Pittsburgh Steelers issued their third and final injury update of Bengals game week, giving fans reasons to be optimistic—and reasons to be worried—about the prospects for winning Sunday afternoon’s AFC North showdown against Cincinnati.

On the plus side, several key starters—including quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, cornerback Joe Haden and inside linebacker Devin Bush Jr.—were full participants in practice on Friday, indicating that they are probable for Sunday’s game.

Both Haden and Bush missed last weekend’s home loss to Las Vegas, part of the reason the Raiders were able to pass for 382 yards en route to a 26-17 win. Meanwhile, Roethlisberger is suffering from a left pectoral injury, as revealed by head coach Mike Tomlin during his press conference on September 21.

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On the downside, the Steelers are going to be without wide receiver Diontae Johnson and second-year outside linebacker Alex Highsmith, already ruled “out” thanks to knee and groin injuries, respectively.

With Johnson on the sideline, No. 4 receiver James Washington figures to play a more prominent role. Washington requested a trade during training camp, but the Steelers made no attempt to move him, in part because he serves as an insurance policy for when one of the team’s top three receivers is unavailable.

As for Highsmith, he’ll be replaced in the lineup by free agent acquisition Melvin Ingram, who per Pro Football Reference, has contributed five tackles, four quarterback hits and a sack in his first two games with the Steelers. It also means that No. 4 outside linebacker Jamir Jones will play at least as prominent role as he played last week, when he was on the field for 15 defensive snaps and nine special teams snaps vs. the Raiders.

The Door is ‘Open’ for T.J. Watt to Play

The ‘X’ factor is whether fellow outside linebacker T.J. Watt (groin) will be able to play against the Bengals. Per Brooke Pryor of ESPN, Watt says he “did enough work this week that the ‘door is open’ for him to play Sunday.”

When pressed further about whether the door was open a crack—or “wide open”—Watt declined to elaborate.

“It’s open,” is all he would say.

Bengals Have 3 Players Listed as ‘Doubtful’

As for Sunday’s opposition, Cincinnati has given the following trio a 25% chance of playing.

  • WR Tee Higgins (shoulder)
  • OG Xavier Su’a-Filo (knee)
  • CB Trae Waynes (hamstring)

Some observers have speculated that Higgins’ status is gamesmanship on the part of the Bengals.

James Rapien of notes that the 22-year-old receiver “was running, cutting and moving without any issues” during team drills on Friday.

“Cornerback Trae Waynes also practiced for a second-straight day,” added Rapien. “He missed more than a month with a hamstring injury, but there’s at least a chance he makes his Bengals debut on Sunday.”

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