Cam Heyward, Steelers searching for first win without T.J. Watt: 'I have to step up'

The Pittsburgh Steelers hope Sunday's matchup against the New York Jets will bring their first victory without star edge rusher T.J. Watt.

"Obviously, we're still trying to win without him," defensive tackle Cameron Heyward said Thursday, via the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "I think we're 0-7 without him."

Actually, the Steelers are 0-6 in games Watt sits. According to Next Gen Stats, the Steelers have a 30.5 QB pressure percentage with Watt compared to 19.0 without since 2021.

With Watt out the past two games and slated to miss several more due to a pectoral injury, Pittsburgh must learn how to win without their star.

"For me, I look at it as I have to step up," Heyward said. "I have to be a better player on the field. It's not me replacing T.J. It's my technique that has to be a lot better. I think every player should look to do that. Every player should look toward raising their level when you've got guys out."

Added Heyward: "T.J. Watt is going to be playing football for a long time. At one time, he will retire, and we're going to have to play football without him. … There are going to be different players always playing. It's opportunities for guys to step up. We have to be excited about those opportunities. If you can turn it into a positive and can bring a guy like T.J. back, it only adds to your group."

After earning seven sacks in Week 1 with Watt in the lineup, Pittsburgh has just two sacks over their last two games (both in Week 3). Perhaps more concerning, the Steelers have generated only six total QB pressures from Weeks 2-3 (22 pressures in Week 1).

"I feel like we're getting better every game even though our record doesn't show that right now," said outside linebacker Alex Highsmith, who leads the NFL with 4.5 sacks. "We made a lot of corrections this week. We're excited to get out there."

Outside of Highsmith, the Steelers haven't found much pressure off the edge. Malik Reed and Robert Spillane have compiled just one QB hit each through three games, and Jamir Jones has yet to hit the QB.

"I think we're close," defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said. "I'd like it better if I didn't have to find that answer, but we're continuing to work and continuing to improve. … We have some guys who are getting opportunities here. I think we're a little closer in that regards, but it will all show out on Sundays."

Sunday could be a get-right matchup for the Steelers' defense against the New York Jets, who have allowed nine sacks through three weeks, tied for seventh-most in the NFL. Quarterback Zach Wilson will make his season debut Sunday. Wilson was sacked 44 times in 2021 (3rd-most in NFL).

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