True championship contenders can lose a key component to injury and still soldier on. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar gets hurt, Magic Johnson plays center, the Los Angeles Lakers still win.
Teams on the fringes can’t cope.
The Steelers can’t lose either of the following for a significant period:
*RB Najee Harris. Benny Snell football = death sentence.
*Edge rusher T.J. Watt. Alex Highsmith is mediocre. Backups at the position stink.
Injury is a legit concern for both.
Harris says he’d welcome 500 touches if that’s what it takes. Coach Mike Tomlin is known to run his backs “ ‘til the wheels fall off.” (It’s unbelievable that Tomlin once said that out loud.)
Watt got hurt a lot last year. His absence was telling. When Watt played 40+ snaps, the Steelers were 9-2 and allowed 19.9 points per game. When Watt didn’t, the Steelers were 0-5-1 and allowed 29.8 points per game.
That reflects the absolute necessity of Watt staying healthy.
No athlete wants to be injured. But when Watt got that huge contract, being available became an obligation.
DE Cam Heyward is equal to Watt in terms of quality, and better than Harris. But Larry Ogunjobi and Tyson Alualu provide quality on the front three, and depth at that spot isn’t terrible.
If either Harris or Watt gets hurt badly, the Steelers’ season is over.
The Steelers are far from a great team. They’re an average team that’s walking a tightrope.
If most teams lose their quarterback, they’re screwed. That’s one burden the Steelers don’t have. In fact, if Mitch Trubisky goes down, that might get Kenny Pickett under center.
It worked out pretty good in 2004 when Tommy Maddox and Charlie Batch both got injured.