Per league rules, vaccinated players who test positive can return after two negative tests, provided that they are asymptomatic. Unvaccinated players, on the other hand, are ruled out for a minimum of ten days.
Watt missed Week 11 against the Chargers with hip and knee injuries but returned on Sunday to face the Bengals. Now, his status for this week’s game against the Ravens is in flux.
Through nine games this year, Watt has 12.5 sacks, four passes defensed, three forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries to his credit. The Steelers, stationed at 5-5-1, can ill afford to lose him at this stage of the season.
The Steelers still have a 10% chance of making the postseason, per Five Thirty Eight, but a loss to the Ravens would make it a near mathematical impossibility.
Following a knee injury Eric Ebron sustained in last week’s loss to the Chargers, the Steelers placed the veteran tight end on injured reserve. His time in Pittsburgh might be over as well.
Surgery has emerged as a possibility; that would most likely put an end to the tight end’s season. Ebron had missed two games earlier in the season with a hamstring injury but had returned to normal snap counts in the past two weeks. Ebron’s two-year Pittsburgh contract expires at season’s end.
Rookie Pat Freiermuth has become the primary tight end for Pittsburgh this year, and the second-round pick will only see his usage increase as a result of Ebron’s absence. Ebron’s production has been limited in his second Steelers season; he has pulled in just 12 receptions for 84 yards and one touchdown. The Steelers also have backups Zach Gentry and Kevin Rader — the latter promoted from the practice squad ahead of Week 12 — to help pick up the slack.
In corresponding moves, Pittsburgh promoted guard John Leglue to the active roster and moved guard J.C. Hassenauer to the IR alongside Ebron. The team also bumped up defensive lineman Daniel Archibong and wide receiver Anthony Miller from its practice squad for week’s matchup against the Bengals.
There is perhaps no division in the NFL more up in the air right now than the AFC North. All four clubs have a winning record and, by extension, every team has a chance of taking the division title.
Back in the August, the Ravens were favored to win the division with +115 odds with the Browns (+140) in a close second. Since then, injuries have leveled the playing field. Now, the recently resurgent Steelers (+400) and the surprising Bengals (+2000) find themselves right in the thick of the race.
The preseason favorite Ravens were bit by the injury bug early and often, losing their three top returning running backs – J.K. Dobbins (ACL), Gus Edwards (ACL), and Justice Hill (Achilles) – before playing a single regular season game. They also lost their team leader in interceptions and starting cornerback, Marcus Peters (ACL), in the preseason and star offensive tackle, Ronnie Stanley (ankle), after only one game. The Ravens quickly adopted a next-man-up philosophy where possible and turned to the free agent market for some veterans to fill out their depleted running back room, settling on eight-year journeyman Latavius Murray and former Falcons star Devonta Freeman to tote the rock. The Ravens rattled off five straight wins after a season opening loss, but have struggled with consistent success over the last few weeks with troubling performances in losses to the Bengals and Dolphins and close three-point wins against the Vikings and Bears. Despite the up-and-down play, the Ravens occupy first place in the AFC North with a 7-3 record.
The Bengals are making a bid to be the latest team in the NFL to go from worst in the division one year to first in the division the very next year. A healthy Joe Burrow, with some NFL experience now under his belt, has benefitted greatly from the team’s first round pick out of LSU, wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase. Chase has teamed up with wide receivers Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins to create quite the three-headed monster. Boyd received important experience as a number one target in 2019 in the absence of A.J. Green and Higgins had an impressive rookie year in 2020 after coming one pick shy of the first round. They’ve also been assisted greatly by a defense that ranks eighth in the league, according to Pro Football Focus. The Bengals have shown a bit of a Jekyll-and-Hyde persona with dominant wins over the Steelers, Ravens, and Raiders (all +.500) and puzzling losses to struggling franchises in the Bears and Jets. They currently sit in 2nd in the AFC North with a 6-4 record.
The Steelers have run hot and cold, opening the year with a shocking road win over the Bills before losing three straight. They rebounded with four straight wins before tying the winless Lions and losing to the Chargers in which they trailed 27-10 late in the 3rd quarter. The story of the Steelers’ season has been one of a 39 year-old Ben Roethlisberger trying to find success with trio of young WRs – Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, and JuJu Smith-Schuster – and a rookie running back, Najee Harris. Johnson and Claypool have taken the reins as Roethlisberger’s top targets, while Smith-Schuster struggled to find footing in 2021 before landing on IR. Harris, has taken over as the Steelers’ bell-cow, taking 188 of the team’s 244 total carries. While Harris ranks top ten in rushing yards, the defense has struggled without stars Minkah Fitzpatrick and T.J. Watt in the lineup. The Steelers currently sit at 5-4-1, good for third in the AFC North.
Even though Nick Chubb has the third-most rushing yards in the NFL, the Browns have lacked much of their expected offensive firepower. Jarvis Landry has missed 4 games while his would-be partner, Odell Beckham Jr., is out of the picture. Kareem Hunt‘s calf injury hasn’t helped either, but the Browns have still managed to stay afloat at 6-5.
There’s lots of time left in the 18-week schedule for this order to change, especially since the Browns get to face the Ravens twice inside of the next three weeks. Meanwhile, every AFC North team has a stacked dance card — all of their remaining opponents are over the .500 mark. If you enjoy entertainment and chaos, this is the divisional race for you.
So how do you see the division shaping up? Vote in our latest poll and weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section.
November 25th, 2021 at 3:23pm CST by Zachary Links
The Steelers have activated Minkah Fitzpatrick, per a club announcement. After a short stint on the COVID-19 list, the star defensive back will be eligible to play against the Bengals on Sunday.
Fitzpatrick tested positive on Nov. 15, forcing him to the reserve list, per the league’s protocols. The Steelers clearly missed him last week against the Chargers, allowing 41 points in a losing effort. They were also without edge rusher T.J. Watt and cornerback Joe Haden, but both players are trending towards returning as well. Watt, who suffered a hip and knee injuries against the Lions, returned to practice on Wednesday. Haden, meanwhile, is expected to practice tomorrow.
Through nine games, Fitzpatrick has 64 tackles, one pass defensed, one tackle for a loss, and one forced fumble. Besides linebacker Joe Schobert, he has more total stops than anyone on the Steelers.
Fitzpatrick has been a cornerstone of the Steelers’ D, ever since the mid-2019 trade that brought him to Pittsburgh. The Steelers sent first-, fifth-, and sixth-round picks to Miami in the trade, but they’d do it again in a heartbeat. In 2020, the 25-year-old tackled on yet another First-Team All-Pro nod with four interceptions, 79 total stops, and eleven passes defensed on the year. He also took one of those interceptions back for a pick six, giving him four defensive TDs for his career.
November 23rd, 2021 at 3:57pm CST by Zachary Links
Eric Ebron will be out for at least a little while. The Steelers tight end is “expected to miss extended time” with a knee injury that may require surgery (Twitter link via Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com). For now, he’s awaiting a second opinion to determine the best course of action.
Ebron was forced out midway through Sunday’s game against the Chargers and didn’t make it back to the field. His day ended with three grabs for 24 yards and his first touchdown of the year; now, it’s possible that his season will be capped at 12 catches, 84 yards, and one TD.
In 2020, Ebron went off for 56 catches, 558 yards, and five touchdowns. Needless to say, this isn’t the encore he had in mind. And, since he’s in his walk year, a season-ending surgery could mark the end of his Steelers tenure.
Ebron joined the Steelers last year on a two-year deal worth $12MM. The relatively low-risk pickup paid off in Year One, but Ebron’s inconsistency seems to have followed him to Pittsburgh. In 2018, the UNC product got the drops under control and managed a 13-touchdown season with 66 catches for 750 yards. But, without quarterback Andrew Luck, he was far less productive in 2019. Now, after a strong 2020 debut with the Steelers, his 2021 may end without much of an impact.
Some good news for the Steelers’ offense as the team prepares for tomorrow night’s game against the Chargers. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports (via Twitter) that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will be activated from the reserve/COVID-19 list and is “is on track to play Sunday night.” The news was first reported by Steelers PR man Burt Lauten (on Twitter).
The Steelers have made the move to activate their 18th-year passer, indeed putting Big Ben in line to play Sunday night in Los Angeles. The Steelers also promoted safety Karl Joseph, who stands to help a team missing Minkah Fitzpatrick, who remains on the COVID list. Kevin Dotson is now on IR as well. Dotson, who moved into Pittsburgh’s starting lineup after mixing in as a rookie, is dealing with a high ankle sprain.
Big Ben landed on the reserve/COVID-19 list last weekend, forcing him to miss Sunday’s game against the Lions. The 39-year-old passer had self-reported COVID symptoms to the team and subsequently tested positive for the virus. Roethlisberger has reportedly passed the NFL’s COVID-19 protocols, and while he’s not traveling with the team to California, he is on a separate flight and intending to play on Sunday.
The Steelers offense predictably struggled last weekend against the lowly Lions. While backup QB Mason Rudolph did pass for 242 yards, he only completed 30 of his 50 passing attempts, and that came with an extra period of play before the eventual tie. Rudolph also tossed a touchdown and an interception.
Prior to last weekend, the Steelers had won four in a row to bring themselves squarely into the AFC playoff picture. During that streak, Roethlisberger — whose early-season struggles prompted speculation about his job security — was over 200 passing yards per game, had thrown six TDs, zero interceptions, and posted a 104.6 QB rating (h/t Aditi Kinkhabwala of the NFL Network on Twitter).