On Sunday Sept. 11 the Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Cincinnati Bengals 23-20 in OT, but the victory came at significant cost. As noted by Ian Rapoport of NFL Network, Watt had an MRI on Monday to evaluate the extent of his pectoral (pec) injury, which occurred while the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year was rushing Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow.
Early Monday afternoon, Jonathan Jones of CBS Sports indicated that “there is some optimism in Pittsburgh” that Watt “did not experience a full pec tear and will be able to return after sitting for a month or so, per league source. Still awaiting word from the team,” he concluded.
Later in the afternoon, Ian Rapoport appeared on NFL Now and reported that “the Steelers and TJ Watt are both weighing options surrounding his pec injury, with both rehab-only and surgery as the options.”
He went on to say, “My understanding is we may not get firm word on the injury to T.J. Watt, how long he is out, and what the next step is until tomorrow. He’s going to have a second opinion and likely to have a couple different doctors review the scans.”
Rapoport did say that surgery “would knock him out till at least the end of the season, or can he rehab and return in a couple weeks. Both of those options are on the table. There is a possibility that he does not need surgery immediately … which would mean it’s more of a pec strain than a full tear, but more information coming, likely within the next 24 hours.”
Adam Schefter of ESPN has also weighed in on the situation and said that Watt is getting “second and third medical opinions…. If doctors determine that Watt needs surgery, his season likely would be over; if he doesn’t need surgery, he could possibly return in six weeks.”
For what it’s worth, Brooke Pryor of ESPN indicated the Watt was “decently chipper” when he came through the locker room on Monday, though he declined to do any interviews. “Walking with a good spring in his step, snapping. If you’re into reading body language and such,” concluded Pryor, who is the Steelers reporter for ESPN NFL Nation.
Before leaving Sunday’s game, Watt had six solo tackles, including three tackles for loss, a sack, two passes defensed and a quarterback hit.
J.J. Watt Suffered a Torn Pectoral in 2019
Notably, there’s a family history with this particular injury. T.J. Watt’s brother, J.J., suffered a torn pectoral in Week 8 of the 2019 season while tackling Raiders running back Josh Jacobs.
He had surgery two days later and returned to practice eight weeks after that, despite the expectation that he was going to miss the rest of the year, as a torn pec is considered a three- to four-month injury.
He went on to play against the Buffalo Bills in the team’s Wild Card game, and recorded two tackles (one solo), with a sack and two quarterback hits.
He was almost invisible the following week in a 51-31 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in his team’s divisional round game, looking “gassed on the field” and finishing the game without a tackle or sack.
Malik Reed Expected to Fill in For Steelers’ T.J. Watt
As to what the Steelers defense might look like without T.J. Watt, one Pittsburgh sports columnist has described it as “ordinary.”
“When Watt played the entire game last season, the Steelers were 9-3. When he was unavailable or compromised by injury, they were 0-4-1. The numbers don’t lie, and they spell disaster for the Steelers in 2022,” wrote Mark Madden in his column for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
One can argue that the Steelers are better positioned to absorb the loss of Watt this season as compared to last. For one, the organization traded for former Denver Broncos outside linebacker Malik Reed at the end of August.
As noted by Mike Prisuta, Reed started 34 games for the Broncos between 2019-21, filling in for the likes of Bradley Chubb and Von Miller. Over the course of 45 appearances he was credited with 123 tackles (74 solo), including 15 sacks, 15 tackles for loss, 30 quarterback hits, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries, as per Pro Football Reference.
Reed, 26, was credited with one tackle while playing in a reserve role on Sunday. According to Brooke Pryor, Malik Reed has been told that his role will be “expanding” going forward.
But the main difference between this year and last is the presence of better talent elsewhere in the front seven, which has seen the return of starting nose tackle Tyson Alualu and the addition of defensive end Larry Ogunjobi, not to mention the addition of inside linebacker Myles Jack, both of whom were signed as unrestricted free agents.