Defensive force T.J. Watt leads Steelers against Raiders
T.J. Watt’s performance in his first game as the highest-paid defensive player in NFL history — and as the reigning AFC Defensive Player of the Year — was certainly up to his standards.
The three-time Pro Bowl linebacker looks to follow up with another stellar outing when the Pittsburgh Steelers (1-0) host the Las Vegas Raiders (1-0) on Sunday afternoon.
The 26-year-old Watt signed a four-year, $112 million extension just days before the start of the season. He then recorded two sacks and a forced fumble in last weekend’s 23-16 road victory over the Buffalo Bills.
The strip-sack of Buffalo’s Josh Allen was Watt’s 18th career forced fumble in just 63 regular-season games. He has 51.5 sacks.
Steelers defensive tackle Cam Heyward was amazed that Watt was in top form right out of the gate.
“For him to go out there and handle it the way he handled it and capitalize on it, with a win like this, pretty proud of him,” Heyward told reporters. “I know it wasn’t always pretty for him. He wanted to be out there with us.”
Raiders quarterback Derek Carr surely isn’t as happy about seeing Watt on the other side of the ball.
Watt registered an NFL-best 15 sacks last season — his third straight season of at least 13. And everywhere Carr looks, Watt will seemingly be in the vicinity.
“He’s fun to watch from afar and I admire his game, but (it’s an) exciting challenge for us also to go against him,” Carr told reporters. “He got his new contract and deserves every penny. That’s easy to see, but it’s also fun to compete against the best.”
Carr was superb in the Raiders’ season-opening 33-27 overtime win over the visiting Baltimore Ravens. He completed 34 of 56 passes for 435 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
Las Vegas rolled up 491 yards and 26 first downs against a Baltimore squad known for rugged defense.
Raiders coach Jon Gruden expects a battle against the Steelers, who allowed just one touchdown in their win over the Bills.
“They’re going to be a challenge,” Gruden told reporters. “They, too, are unorthodox. They present a lot of different looks, and we have our work cut out for us on a short week.”
Las Vegas defensive end Maxx Crosby was named AFC Defensive Player of the Week after having two sacks and also accumulating two losses on running plays.
Since Crosby was able to corral the speedy Lamar Jackson, there’s a good chance he’ll run into Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger at some point Sunday.
“Obviously he’s not as athletic as Lamar Jackson,” Crosby told reporters with a laugh. “Lamar is kind of an anomaly in a way, but Big Ben is a great quarterback.
“Big Ben is a hell of a player, he’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer. We’re definitely looking forward to it and I’m excited.”
Crosby and Roethlisberger have mutual admiration as both are products of Mid-American Conference schools. Crosby played at Eastern Michigan while Roethlisberger starred at Miami (Ohio).
“Nothing surprises me because he’s from the MAC and that’s where the best football players come from,” Roethlisberger said of Crosby. “He’s a stud.”
Roethlisberger completed 18 of 32 passes for 188 yards and one touchdown in the win over the Bills.
Steelers linebacker Robert Spillane (shin) could miss his second straight game while the Raiders’ Wednesday injury report listed 17 players, including two who are done for the year with knee injuries in guard Denzelle Good and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy.
Also not practicing were guard Richie Incognito (calf), running back Josh Jacobs (toe, ankle), linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski (concussion), backup quarterback Marcus Mariota (quadriceps), defensive end Carl Nassib (pectoral, toe) and safety Roderic Teamer (ankle).
The Raiders have won five of the past seven meetings, including a 24-21 home win in 2018 in the most recent matchup.
–Field Level Media