Mike Pelaia has the Steelers beating the Bengals for this reason…

by Mike Pelaia, Courier Steelers Columnist 

The return of T.J. Watt was extremely palpable in the Steelers’ 20-10 victory this past Sunday, Nov. 13, over the Saints. His presence  enables the defense to play far better than it had without him and the Steelers are 2-0 in games he plays this year. Pittsburgh is 1-10 all-time without Watt. A very telling statistic.

The man who benefits the most from Watt’s play is his opposite outside linebacker, Alex Highsmith. Highsmith is not capable of taking games over like Watt is, but he’s capable of making teams pay for it when Watt does.
In the opening week of the season, Highsmith recorded three sacks with Watt on the other side of the line. When Watt returned this past week, Highsmith recorded another two sacks. Highsmith has a total of 8.5 sacks on the year but you can see where his bread is buttered.
And that really goes for the entire defense. In nine games, the Steelers defense has created a mere 12 turnovers. Five of those 12
have come when Watt was on the field. He is the difference-maker this team needs.
The offense benefits from his play as well as he contributes to shorter drives from the opponent and better field position for the  Steelers because of it. It enables the play-calling to be different. It helps set up a much-needed running game, which incidentally, if
Najee Harris can run like he did last week, moving forward, the Steelers have something cooking, and it gives the entire team a boost of confidence.
Every team wants a franchise quarterback, the Steelers had that for years with Ben Roethlisberger, and we’ll see what Kenny Pickett turns into but after that, every team wants a guy like T.J. Watt. I’m not sure if there is another non-quarterback in the league who is as important to their team as Watt is to the Steelers. He needs to stay healthy for this team to succeed and if he does, they may make the second half of the season a little bit interesting. I don’t see playoffs in their future but they may push their way back into the conversation over the next few weeks.
With Watt’s return and the absence of JaMarr Chase on the other side for the Cincinnati Bengals, the Steelers have a chance. The first time they played, the defense punished Joe Burrow in Week 1. They forced him into four interceptions, sacked him seven times and hit him 11 more.
Chase had 129 receiving yards and one touchdown and the Bengals will sorely miss him. Cincinnati is far better than their 5-4 record indicates but this is a big game for both teams. The Steelers are still trying to salvage a season from being lost and the Bengals are trying to stay relevant in the playoff mix. A sweep at the hands of the Steelers could seriously derail the Bengals’ hopes.
Logic says to pick Cincinnati here. They are still the better team and I don’t think it’s even that close. Also, sweeping a team with a
franchise quarterback like Joe Burrow is no easy task. Yet, my gut says Steelers and it’s all because of T.J. Watt.
I expect a performance by the defense similar to the opening week. I think it will be low-scoring and I think that with Watt back, that now favors Pittsburgh. Watt will get two sacks and Highsmith two more. Burrow will throw another pick and the defense will force a fumble.
The energy at Acrisure Stadium will be electric as the Steelers pull it out late.



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