T.J. Watt

Steelers S Minkah Fitzpatrick Out With Appendicitis; OLB T.J. Watt Activated

6:00pm: After undergoing an appendectomy to deal with the appendicitis Fitzpatrick suffered through in walkthroughs today, the two-time All-Pro safety is expected to miss multiple weeks in recovery, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

The Steelers will want Fitzpatrick back on the field as soon as possible, but typically, appendectomies have resulted in missing more than one week. Schefter points at the most recent major player to undergo the procedure as an example. Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow underwent the surgery just before training camp and missed two-and-a-half weeks.

A similar-length absence would see Fitzpatrick miss tomorrow’s game and next weekend’s matchup vs the Bengals. An extra day means that he could return in time for the team’s Monday night game in Indianapolis the week after, but that’s an extremely optimistic timeline.

Behind Norwood, whom we mentioned below as the likely replacement, Pittsburgh recently returned Damontae Kazee from IR. They’ll also have Miles Killebrew and the practice squad elevation, Riley.

2:09pm: The Steelers have been looking forward to the return of star pass rusher T.J. Watt from injured reserve this week but are now expected to be without safety Minkah Fitzpatrick who is reportedly dealing with appendicitis, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network. The team has also officially activated Watt from IR and placed cornerback William Jackson III on IR.

Fitzpatrick is set to miss his first game of the season and just the second game of his career. Despite the team’s struggles this year, Fitzpatrick has maintained a high level of play. He has been all over the defensive backfield this year racking up six passes defensed along with three interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown. Being only halfway through the season, Fitzpatrick is on track for career highs in both numbers, assuming he can make a quick return from his appendicitis.

In the lone game Fitzpatrick has missed before this, which occurred last season, the Steelers started then-rookie seventh-round pick Tre Norwood in his place. Norwood had already made two starts at the time, being one of the first defensive backs off the bench in packages that called for five or six defensive backs, but that was his first game playing 100% of the team’s defensive snaps and playing specifically in Fitzpatrick’s role. The Steelers’ pass defense struggled that day in a loss to the Chargers in which quarterback Justin Herbert passed for nearly 400 yards. It’s hard to blame the loss on Norwood’s stand-in performance, but considering the Steelers finished 2021 as a top-10 passing defense, one can infer some importance concerning Fitzpatrick’s absence. This year, Norwood started in place of an injured Terrell Edmunds in a Week 5 matchup against the Bills. Again, correlation does not exactly equal causation, but the team’s pass defense once again struggled as quarterback Josh Allen passed for 424 yards and four touchdowns on only 20 completions.

The return of Watt should be heralded in the Steel City as a giant addition to the defense. Outside of outside linebacker Alex Highsmith and defensive tackle Cameron Heyward, the Steelers have struggled to produce an effective pass rush. Pittsburgh will gladly welcome pack their star defender who produced 22.5 sacks in only 15 games last season. Returning the reigning Defensive Player of the Year back to the field may not totally make up for the absence of Fitzpatrick, but it sure helps.

Jackson has yet to make his Steelers debut after being traded from the Commanders 11 days ago, and his debut will have to wait at least four more games after being placed on IR. Jackson had already missed the past three games for Washington while dealing with a back injury. Even though the season is only half over, the Steelers are far enough back in the division race that there is no sense in rushing Jackson to return from a back injury before he’s ready.

Lastly, in response to Fitzpatrick’s absence, the Steelers have elevated safety Elijah Riley from the practice squad for this weekend’s game against the Saints.

T.J. Watt Planning To Play In Week 10

Having identified Week 10 as the T.J. Watt return point for a bit now, the Steelers have not seen anything interfere with that plan. Watt said Friday he will play against the Saints on Sunday.

The reigning Defensive Player of the Year does not expect to be on a snap count, via The Athletic’s Mike DeFabo (on Twitter). Watt has been out since Week 1. A pectoral injury initially caused this hiatus, but Watt underwent knee surgery during his chest recovery. That lengthened the timetable.

Pittsburgh is in danger of its first sub-.500 season since 2003. The team is 1-6 without Watt, who entered the season having never missed more than two games in an NFL campaign previously. Only one Steelers edge rusher (Alex Highsmith) has more than one sack this season. Watt tallied a sack during his abbreviated opener, but Highsmith (team-high 6.5) has not received too much help from the team’s Watt-less outside linebacker contingent.

Watt, 28, is coming off a season in which he tied Michael Strahan‘s official sack record with 22.5, getting there in just 15 games. This season is the first on the four-year, $112MM extension Watt signed just before the start of the 2021 campaign. Watt’s streak of three straight first-team All-Pro honors will come to an end this year, but the Steelers can certainly benefit from their pass-rushing anchor returning.

The Steelers activated safety Damontae Kazee from IR on Thursday, but Watt will only be the team’s second IR activation this year. Pittsburgh let fourth-round pick Calvin Austin‘s IR-return window close without an activation; the fourth-round rookie wideout is now on season-ending IR. Watt’s window would close Nov. 16.

The Steelers gave the star edge defender nearly the full return window to prepare for his return. Despite pectoral injuries often leading to season-ending injuries, Watt avoided surgery and has gone through multiple weeks of practice. It will be interesting to see what kind of boost the former first-rounder can provide to a team that ranks 29th in total defense.

Steelers Still Eyeing Week 10 T.J. Watt Return

Last week, the Steelers opened the IR-return window on T.J. Watt, leading to questions of when they would envision his return. Despite this Sunday marking the second week in which the defending Defensive Player of the Year could be activated, that remains unlikely to happen.

Watt has been sidelined since suffering a major pectoral injury in Week 1. The fact that he was able to rehab it left the door open to a return at some point in the season, but it came as no surprise that he was placed on IR. His timeline to see the field was pushed back, however, when he underwent knee surgery just under one month ago.

Given Pittsburgh’s struggles this year, along with Watt’s crucial importance to the team, the Steelers have remained understandably cautious with him. Indeed, as confirmed by Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Week 10 has always remained the target with respect to Watt’s return (Twitter link). That contest against the Saints would be the last opportunity for Watt to be activated; if he fails to return by next week, he will be out for the remainder of the season.

While Pittsburgh sits at 2-6, leaving their chances of a postseason berth – or, at a minimum, extending their streak of never having a losing season during the Mike Tomlin era – in serious doubt, Watt returning to the fold would of course be a welcomed sight. In his absence, the team ranks 21st in the league with 15 sacks, a far cry from their normal position in that regard during the 28-year-old’s standout career.

The Steelers are on their bye this week, which gives both Watt and safety Damontae Kazee time to ease back into game shape. While November 13 will be the team’s first contest since trading away Chase Claypool in a significant move on offense, then, it should also see a pair of important defenders make their return to the field.

Steelers Designate OLB T.J. Watt For Return; WR Calvin Austin’s IR-Return Window Closes

T.J. Watt has run into multiple injuries since the season began. A pectoral issue in Week 1 initially put the reigning Defensive Player of the Year’s season in jeopardy, and a subsequent knee surgery lengthened his recovery timetable. But Watt took another step on the road back Wednesday.

The Steelers opened Watt’s practice window, designating him to return from IR. Pittsburgh has three weeks to activate Watt. Not doing so would result in the perennial All-Pro missing the rest of the season.

The latter outcome will take place for Calvin Austin. Pittsburgh has let the fourth-round rookie’s designated-for-return window close without an activation. Austin sustained a foot injury in August, and the Steelers will give him a full season to heal. He reverts to season-ending IR.

Hopes of a potential Week 6 Watt return ended up being too optimistic, with the knee surgery changing his recovery outlook. But Watt returning to practice now will be a nice benefit to the Steelers. The team has a Week 9 bye, so it would not surprise if Watt is held out until Week 10. But the sixth-year outside linebacker can be activated at any point in the next three weeks. The Steelers have not used any of their injury activations yet. Austin’s shutdown increases Pittsburgh’s flexibility over the season’s final three months.

Watt, 28, is building a Hall of Fame resume. While he may not have solidified first-ballot Canton status like J.J. Watt just yet, the youngest of the NFL’s Watt brothers has earned first-team All-Pro recognition in each of the past three seasons. T.J.’s 52 sacks from 2019-21 are on another level from the rest of the league; Aaron Donald‘s 38.5 sit second in that span.

A Ravens draft target as well, Austin totaled back-to-back 1,000-yard receiving seasons at Memphis. The Steelers, who have established a long-running track record of wide receiver development, took Austin despite drafting George Pickens two rounds earlier. While Wednesday’s news represents a setback, the 162-pound rookie’s progress in Pittsburgh’s offense will be worth monitoring in 2023.

Steelers’ T.J. Watt Undergoes Knee Surgery

The Steelers will likely have to wait longer for the return of their top defender. Edge rusher T.J. Watt recently underwent arthroscopic knee surgery, per ESPN’s Brooke Pryor and Adam Schefter

Watt has been sidelined since suffering a torn pectoral muscle in the season opener. The fact that he was able to rehab the injury left him available to return at some point in the season. That time was expected to be Week 6, but this knee procedure will likely cause him to miss at least one or two more weeks.

The surgery was aimed at cleaning up an injury the reigning Defensive Player of the Year suffered during the preseason. Given the delay it will likely cause, his ability to return before the team’s Week 9 bye is now very much in doubt. To no surprise, the Steelers will be particularly cautious with respect to his rehab, per the report.

Watt has been instrumental to Pittsburgh’s success throughout his career. The team has lost all seven of the games they have played with him sidelined due to injury, including each of the last three contests in 2022. In his absence, Alex Highsmith and Malik Reed will continue to be leaned on as starters at the position, one which has contributed to the fact that Pittsburgh has only recorded three sacks since Week 1.

The Steelers’ decision to hand the role of starting quarterback to first-round rookie Kenny Pickett will be the dominant storyline tomorrow afternoon when they take on the Bills. Even if they pull off the upset and improve to 2-3, however, they will likely remain without the most important member of their defense for several weeks to come.

Steelers Hoping T.J. Watt Can Return Week 6

T.J. Watt‘s return should be coming sooner than later, and it sounds like the organization is targeting a specific return date. According to Jason La Canfora of the Washington Post, the Steelers are optimistic that the reigning Defensive Player of the Year could be back on the field for Week 6 against the Buccaneers.

[RELATED: Steelers To Place T.J. Watt On IR]

This is the earliest possible date for Watt’s return after the Steelers placed him on injured reserve in mid-September. When Watt first suffered his injury, it was uncertain if he’d even be able to return this season. We later learned that his pectoral injury wasn’t as severe as initially believed, but it wasn’t a slam dunk that he’d be good to go after only four weeks on IR. Ultimately, it sounds like he’s speeding toward that lofty target, and for what it’s worth, La Canfora writes that Watt has been pushing to return as soon as possible.

Watt suffered the injury in Week 1 after collecting six tackles, three tackles for loss, and an interception. He had 72 sacks through his first five seasons with Pittsburgh, including 37.5 sacks over the past two years alone. The Steelers haven’t won since losing Watt to injury, losing each of their past three games after winning the season opener.

Since Watt went down with his injury, Alex Highsmith has stepped up as the team’s top pass rusher, collecting 5.5 sacks through four games. Malik Reed has also seen an uptick in snaps, culminating in him earning two straight starts. Reed collected 13 sacks for Denver between 2020 and 2021, so the Steelers will be eyeing some significant pass-rushing depth once their top guy returns to the lineup.

Steelers To Place T.J. Watt On IR

The Steelers received good news earlier this week on the T.J. Watt front. The reigning Defensive Player of the Year avoided season-ending pectoral surgery. Watt’s chest injury will still keep him out for a while, however.

Although this has not become official yet, ESPN.com’s Field Yates notes Watt will be placed on IR (Twitter link). Pittsburgh is also signing outside linebacker David Anenih off Tennessee’s practice squad. These moves are now official.

An IR placement ahead of Week 2 means Watt’s return window would open in Week 6. It is not yet certain the accomplished pass rusher can hit that mark, the Watt family’s success at rehabbing injuries notwithstanding. But the sixth-year veteran could make it back in as early as five weeks. While the Steelers could be cautious with their top player, Watt returning before the midseason point represents a vast status improvement compared to where this situation appeared headed after he left the team’s opener.

Anenih will be the latest Steelers outside linebacker hire for a Steelers team that has turned this group over in recent weeks. Alex Highsmith now becomes the team’s top healthy edge, but his supporting cast looks vastly different compared to its August complexion.

Three-year Broncos fill-in starter Malik Reed will take on that role for the Steelers, being acquired for just a 2023 seventh-round pick. The Steelers also claimed Jamir Jones off waivers from the Jaguars earlier this month. Former second-round Washington pick Ryan Anderson — who was not with a team last season — is now on Pittsburgh’s practice squad. Third-year outside ‘backer Delontae Scott joins Anderson on Pittsburgh’s P-squad, but the team has otherwise overhauled its set of backup edge defenders.

Anenih is a rookie UDFA out of Houston who was one of many current NFL rookies — Kenny Pickett among them — to enter the league after using the fifth year of eligibility the NCAA allowed after the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Anenih totaled a career-best 10 tackles for loss to go along with five sacks. During his five-year Cougars career, Anenih tallied 20.5 sacks. The Titans allowed Anenih to leave, rather than promote him to their active roster. That is a somewhat interesting move considering the team recently lost top edge rusher Harold Landry for the season.

The Steelers will face the Patriots, Browns, Jets and Bills without Watt. Three more games — against the Buccaneers, Dolphins and Eagles — come before the team’s Week 9 bye. Watt’s new timetable would point to that stretch being his activation window.

AFC Injury Notes: Ravens, Watt, Bengals

J.K. Dobbins returned to practice today, with the running back hoping to make his long-awaited return to the field this Sunday. The Ravens running back admitted that his injury “wasn’t just a normal ACL,” with Dobbins explaining that he tore his ACL, LCL, hamstring, and meniscus at the end of the 2021 preseason (per ESPN’s Jamison Hensley on Twitter). It’s been just over a year since Dobbins suffered his injury.

“It would mean the world to me if I can go out there this Sunday and play well in front of a full house,” Dobbins said (via Hensley).

Fellow running back Gus Edwards also missed the entire 2021 season with a torn ACL, but thanks to his placement on PUP, he’ll have to sit out the first four games of the season. Still, Edwards took to Instagram to tell fans that he continues to progress in his recovery and eventual return to the field.

“For everybody wondering about my recovery I’m doing great and I’m very close,” Edwards wrote.

More injury notes from around the AFC…

  • The news keeps getting better for T.J. Watt and the Steelers. The star linebacker could recover from his partially torn pectoral muscle within five weeks, according to Aaron Wilson of ProFootballNetwork.com. There was initial fear that Watt had completely torn his pec, which would have ended his season. The news quickly got better; we learned yesterday that Watt wouldn’t need surgery and could be back within six weeks.
  • Bengals long snapper Clark Harris is expected to miss an extended amount of time after tearing his biceps, according to NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero (via Twitter). While Zac Taylor didn’t want to rule out the LS for the season, he did acknowledge that the 38-year-old will miss at least a few months (via ESPN’s Ben Baby on Twitter). Harris, a one-time Pro Bowler, has been with the organization since 2009. Cal Adomitis will get the first shot to replace Harris at long snapper.
  • J.C. Jackson has been listed as questionable for tomorrow’s game against the Chiefs, and Chargers head coach Brandon Staley said earlier this week that the cornerback has a “50-50” shot at playing (per NFL Network’s James Palmer on Twitter). Jackson previously suffered an ankle injury that forced him to miss the team’s Week 1 victory over the Raiders. After earning a second-team All-Pro nod with the Patriots in 2021, Jackson joined Los Angeles this offseason on a five-year, $82.5MM deal. Meanwhile, both Chargers wideout Keenan Allen (hamstring) and Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker (ankle) have been ruled out for Thursday’s showdown.
  • Mac Jones dealt with back spasms following the Patriots‘ Week 1 loss to the Dolphins, but the quarterback continues to improve, according to NFL Network’s Mike Giardi (on Twitter). A source told Giardi that the QB is “doing everything he needs to” in order to be on the field for this weekend’s matchup against the Steelers. Jones and the Patriots offense struggled during the season opener, with the second-year QB guiding New England to only one touchdown.

Steelers’ T.J. Watt Will Not Require Surgery

The best-case scenario has been confirmed with respect to T.J. WattThe Steelers’ top defender will not require surgery, and he will begin the rehab process which should keep him sidelined for roughly six weeks, Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reports (on Twitter). 

Watt suffered a torn pectoral muscle, as was initially feared. However, as Rapoport details, the tendon was not torn, leaving rehab as an alternative to what would have likely been season-ending surgery. By taking the former route, Watt will be able to return at some point relatively soon, as he confirmed (on Twitter) this afternoon.

The reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Watt’s absence will still be felt, of course. Pittsburgh will turn to 2020 third-rounder Alex Highsmith and recent trade acquisition Malik Reed as starters on the edge. Not surprisingly, the team has already taken steps to add depth at the position, though.

The Steelers signed Ryan Anderson to the practice squad, per Rapoport’s colleague Tom Pelissero (Twitter link). A former second-round pick, the 28-year-old never lived up to his draft stock during his four seasons in Washington, with his best career season coming in 2019 (44 tackles, four sacks, five forced fumbles). He initially signed with the Giants last offseason, but was cut in August and did not see any action in 2021.

Anderson could see himself elevated on gamedays; the Steelers are also likely to be active in searching for more depth options on the open market. It remains to be seen if Watt will be placed on IR to open a roster spot, but the fact that he will return around the midway mark of the season is a hugely positive development for the Steelers’ 2022 aspirations.

Steelers Hopeful T.J. Watt Can Return In October

SEPTEMBER 13: More information is still being gathered, but there is a growing sense that surgery will not be needed and that, as a result, Watt will indeed be able to return in roughly six weeks (Twitter link via Rapoport). His colleague Tom Pelissero tweets that the Steelers are likely to place him on IR given that timeframe, though they have yet to do so.

SEPTEMBER 12: The next couple of days will be important for the Steelers’ 2022 defensive aspirations. Fears of T.J. Watt having suffered a torn pectoral muscle have not been proven unfounded, but the 2021 Defensive Player of the Year is not being shut down for multiple months just yet.

Watt will receive second and third opinions from doctors on Tuesday, NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport and ESPN.com’s Adam Schefter report (Twitter links). A surgery would likely lead to a season-ending shutdown, but the Steelers are also optimistic Watt did not suffer a full tear. The team is hopeful Watt, in the event of a partial tear, could to return in around a month, per CBS Sports’ Jonathan Jones (on Twitter).

Pittsburgh’s wild overtime win finished without Watt, who left the field during the fourth quarter. The NFL’s two-time reigning sack leader posted a sack — one of the Steelers’ seven on Joe Burrow in Week 1 — and three tackles for loss in Pittsburgh’s five-period victory. Their prospects of pressuring quarterbacks would take a substantial hit if Watt sustained a full pectoral tear.

In each year of Watt’s career, the Steelers have led the NFL in sacks. That has helped fuel a defensive turnaround, after a more offensively oriented “Killer B’s” period, during that stretch. Since drafting Watt in the 2017 first round, the Steelers have not had to play an extended period without him. Watt, 27, has never missed more than two games in a season.

No matter what the final rounds of testing produce, it appears certain Watt will be out for a while. The league’s highest-paid edge rusher missing half the season and the rest of it are obviously two vastly different realities, however. This season marks the first of Watt’s four-year, $112MM extension. The Steelers No. 2 and No. 3 edge rushers are signed to rookie contracts.

Pittsburgh’s trade for Malik Reed looms large now. The former UDFA will now be in position to play alongside Alex Highsmith. The team sent Denver a 2023 seventh-round pick for the fourth-year veteran last week. Reed has three years’ worth of experience being called into action as a result of a major injury. Bradley Chubb‘s ACL tear made Reed Von Miller‘s top 2019 complementary rusher, and Miller’s season-nullifying ankle injury a year later kept Reed in the lineup. Chubb missed much of last season due to ankle trouble. That and the Miller trade kept Reed (34 career starts) a lineup fixture. Reed played 32 defensive snaps against the Bengals.