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Anticipating the game-wrecker's return

The Steelers knew what type of player they were losing when outside linebacker T.J. Watt was lost to a pectoral injury late in a season-opening overtime win in Cincinnati.

They've been reminded how profound an impact losing a reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year can have ever since.

"I'd put it similar to a great receiver, if you don't take care of him and let him wreck the game he will," defensive coordinator Teryl Austin offered. "He's kinda that guy for us. If they don't take care of him on offense he'll wreck the game. And so obviously they can direct their energy somewhere else when he's not in the game.

"We obviously didn't do a good enough job when he was out of creating some energy, creating some turnovers, creating some rush and doing that stuff. Obviously, that falls on me because we didn't get it done.

"But we're glad to have him back and we're gonna go from here."

Watt's 21-day practice clock started in advance of last Sunday's 35-13 loss at Philadelphia.

The anticipation is Watt will be activated from the Reserve/Injured list once the Steelers return from this weekend's bye and he'll get back on the field against the Saints on Nov. 13 at Acrisure Stadium.

That almost occurred against the Eagles.

"He was pretty close," Austin said. 'He was chompin' at the bit to play, I know that. It just wasn't ready so we decided, (head coach) Mike (Tomlin) decided to wait and we'll get him back after the bye and we'll go from there."

The Steelers attempted to get creative in Watt's absence.

The Steelers prepare for the Week 10 matchup against the New Orleans Saints

Malik Reed was one of those whose snap count increased at outside linebacker.

But the Steelers also resorted to trying formations that included three down linemen and one outside linebacker, and to the use of three inside linebackers at once in an effort to compensate for not having Watt.

As Tomlin might have put it, they left no stone unturned.

"We tried," Austin said. "We did the things we thought were appropriate, that would give us an opportunity to generate some different looks, some different pressures without him in the game.

"I failed at it."

Injuries in the secondary and at defensive line complicated those efforts.

And a lack of defensive play-making too often proved fatal.

The latest example of the latter occurred in Philadelphia when three plays on the ball could have been made but weren't on what became touchdown passes by Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts.

"It's obvious, we've gotta play better," Austin said. "You could say maybe just the corners, but we have to play better overall.

"Really the big thing that's been missing is we've been in position to make a lot of plays and we haven't made them. And so the bottom line is when we get in those positions those are the plays we have to make. I'd be really concerned if there were a lot of just blown coverages and guys weren't around people.

"We're around people, we just have to figure out how to finish."