Run down? Steelers' D generating little push minus T.J. Watt

Fri Sep 23 10:16am ET
By WILL GRAVES
AP Sports Writer

Related photo caption below

Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker T.J. Watt stands on the sideline during the first half of an NFL football game against the New England Patriots in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Sept. 18, 2022. (AP Photo/Phil Pavely)


Related photo caption below

Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin walks off the field after the team's 29-17 loss to the Cleveland Browns in an NFL football game in Cleveland, Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)


Related photo caption below

Cleveland Browns running back Nick Chubb (24) leaps out of a tackle attempt by Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon (25) during the first half of an NFL football game in Cleveland, Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)


Related photo caption below

Cleveland Browns running back Nick Chubb (24) gets past Pittsburgh Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick (39) during the first half of an NFL football game in Cleveland, Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022. (AP Photo/David Richard)


PITTSBURGH (AP) The Pittsburgh Steelers knew what was coming. More specifically, they knew who was coming. And it didn't matter.

Cleveland running back Nick Chubb went wherever he wanted during long stretches of a 29-17 victory over the Steelers on Thursday night, nevermore so than early in the fourth quarter when the Browns put together an 11-play 80-yard drive that ended with Chubb's 1-yard fourth-down dive that gave Cleveland a two-score lead.

Ten of those plays came on the ground, eight of them handoffs to Chubb, who finished with 113 of the 171 yards rushing the Browns piled up on the ground against a defense that offered little pushback without injured All-Pro outside linebacker T.J. Watt.

''We have to be better with the run,'' defensive tackle Cam Heyward said. ''We cannot blame anyone but ourselves. Where the game was going, it came down to whose runner was going to get stopped first, and as a defense we did not take care of that.''

Four days after New England was able to bleed the final 6:33 of a taut 17-14 win by playing keepaway with running back Damien Harris, Cleveland did much of the same. The Browns held the ball for more than 36 minutes, all of them with Watt watching from the sideline in sweats, his left pectoral still in the early stages of recovering from a tear suffered in Week 1 against Cincinnati that sent him to injured reserve.

The NFL's reigning Defensive Player of the Year worked out on the field before the game and will return at some point, though who knows what Pittsburgh's season might look like by then. The Steelers are 0-6 without Watt since he arrived in the first round of the 2017 draft.

Watt is a game-plan wrecker and a chaos agent in his prime whose presence can cover up a lot of flaws - including in 2021 when the Steelers slipped into the playoffs despite having the league's worst rush defense.

Pittsburgh's offseason plan included hoping defensive tackle Tyson Alualu would be back at full strength at age 35 after missing most of last season with an ankle injury and banking on defensive end Stephon Tuitt rediscovering his love for the game after sitting out 2021 with a knee injury. Tuitt opted for retirement instead.

The Steelers re-signed Montravius Adams, drafted lean defensive end DeMarvin Leal and caught a break when Larry Ogunjobi's free-agent deal with Chicago fell through, allowing them to pluck him off the open market in late June.

Pittsburgh's safest path to relevance in 2022 is heavily reliant on a defense that will keep it in games while the offense attempts to figure things out with first-year starting quarterback Mitch Trubisky.

The defense can't simply be OK. It needs to be disruptive. It might even need to find a way to score every now and then.

The unit managed to do both in Week 1, forcing five turnovers - including Minkah Fitzpatrick's pick-6 - and collecting seven sacks in a thrilling and borderline bizarre overtime win in Cincinnati, a game the Steelers survived only after the Bengals missed an extra point and a chip-shot field goal after Watt exited with the left side of his chest in serious pain.

New England proved far more careful with the ball. Cleveland, too. The Steelers have just two sacks and one turnover of the last two weeks. They have two losses two after giving up 295 yards on the ground in the span of just over 100 hours.

''(The Browns) did what they wanted to,'' Fitzpatrick said. ''Run the ball, do trick plays, and stuff like that. They did what they wanted to do and we could not stop it.''

If Pittsburgh wants to turn things around, it needs to find a way. Soon.

WHAT'S WORKING

The offensive line generated a little push in the running game, with the Steelers going over 100 yards for the first time this season. Rookie undrafted free agent Jaylen Warren looks like nice compliment to starter Najee Harris. Warren ran for 30 yards and had 32-yard reception wiped out by a penalty that had nothing to do with the execution of the play.

WHAT NEEDS HELP

While the Steelers did sack Cleveland's Jacoby Brissett twice - two more sacks than they had last Sunday against the Patriots - they hit Brissett just four times while he completed 21 of 31 for 220 yards and two touchdowns.

STOCK UP

Rookie WR George Pickens showed flashes of the brilliance he displayed regularly during training camp, making an improbable one-handed 36-yard reception in the first half that set up a Harris touchdown.

STOCK DOWN

S Terrell Edmunds is typically steady if not spectacular but couldn't keep up with Browns tight end David Njoku, who caught a game-high nine passes, including a 7-yard touchdown.

INJURIES

CB Ahkello Witherspoon left with an apparent hamstring injury. Otherwise the Steelers made it out of Cleveland relatively healthy.

KEY NUMBER

9-1 - The current combined record for Pittsburgh's next five opponents before its bye week in early November.

WHAT'S NEXT

A little bit of extra rest before a visit from the New York Jets on Oct. 2.

Player Notes
Tua Tagovailoa Oct 3 2:20pm ET
Tua Tagovailoa

Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (concussion) has already been ruled out for Week 5 against the New York Jets. However, there's no clear timetable on how long he could be out moving forward. Veteran Teddy Bridgewater will start in his place as long as he's out and is a decent streaming option in one of the league's best passing attacks. Bridgewater has never been a fantasy superstar, but Jaylen Waddle and Tyreek Hill are elite weapons at wide receiver, so his ceiling is as high as it's ever been. The Jets present a favorable matchup for quarterbacks, so Bridgewater can be started for fantasy managers in a tough spot at QB.

From RotoBaller

Melvin Gordon Oct 3 2:13pm ET
Melvin Gordon

Dynasty | Broncos running back Javonte Williams has been diagnosed with a torn ACL, and LCL. Dynasty Analysis: And with that, we have our first major injury in dynasty leagues after a relatively quiet first month, Williams is out for the season, will undergo surgery and should return in time for the 2023 season. It's a brutal blow for the Sophomore running back who was starting to separate himself from Melvin Gordon. He'll end his season with 404 rushing yards, 16 catches, 76 receiving yards and no scores. Williams' dynasty value is going to take a hit after this injury and he's likely to drop out of first round consideration. However, this injury could open an opportunity for a dynasty owner to buy on our RB3.

From Dynasty League Fantasy

Cordarrelle Patterson Oct 3 2:10pm ET
Cordarrelle Patterson

Atlanta Falcons running back Cordarrelle Patterson (knee) is headed to Injured Reserve but is expected to return at some point this season. His placement on IR means he'll be out for at least four weeks. Rookie Tyler Allgeier and Caleb Huntley combined for 140 rushing yards and a touchdown against the Browns and will be the featured backs moving forward. Damien Williams (rib) could return soon, too, so he's worth noting. For now, it's tough to say whether Allgeier or Huntley is the player to start in Week 5 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but it'll be a tough matchup against one of the league's premier front sevens in the NFL.

From RotoBaller

Cordarrelle Patterson Oct 3 1:23pm ET
Cordarrelle Patterson

Atlanta Falcons RB Cordarrelle Patterson (knee) was placed on the Reserve/Injured list Monday, Oct. 3.

Fantasy Spin: Patterson is averaging 5.9 yards per carry and ranks fourth in the league in rushing at 340 yards, so there is no question his absence will be a big one for the Falcons. With Damien Williams also on IR, rookie Tyler Allgeier will almost certainly be asked to carry most of the load for the next couple of weeks. Caleb Huntley also figures to play a prominent role after rushing for 56 yards and his first NFL touchdown on 10 carries in Week 4. Allgeier should be considered a strong flex option with RB2 upside and Huntley a priority stash in deeper leagues.

From TheHuddle

Javonte Williams Oct 3 1:10pm ET
Javonte Williams

Denver Broncos running back Javonte Williams (knee) suffered a torn ACL in the Week 4 loss to the division-rival Las Vegas Raiders and his 2022 season is over, according to a source. Williams came into the year as a popular breakout candidate in his second NFL season, but after four weeks, no touchdowns and a torn ACL, his sophomore season comes to a disappointing end. He can now be dropped in single-season leagues. With Williams now done, the Broncos will turn to some combination of Melvin Gordon III and Mike Boone. Gordon had a disastrous Week 4 with three carries for eight yards and a lost fumble that was returned for a touchdown. While this could be another frustrating timeshare, Gordon should have more fantasy upside as a potential RB2, but Boone is also worth waiver-wire consideration in deeper leagues.

From RotoBaller

Marquise Brown Oct 3 1:00pm ET
Marquise Brown

Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Darius Slay (forearm) didn't suffer a major forearm injury in the Week 4 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars and has a chance to play in Week 5 against the Arizona Cardinals. Meanwhile, cornerback Avonte Maddox (ankle), who suffered an ankle sprain last week, is up in the air for Week 5, according to sources. Maddox could miss another game, but his injury isn't long-term. It's good news for the Eagles secondary as they try to remain the only undefeated team in the league heading into a matchup against Arizona. If Slay is able to play, it will be bad news for Cardinals No. 1 receiver Marquise Brown. The Eagles defense/special teams has been a must-start fantasy unit this season.

From RotoBaller

Baker Mayfield Oct 3 12:50pm ET
Baker Mayfield

Carolina Panthers head coach Matt Rhule told reporters on Monday that he's sticking with Baker Mayfield as his quarterback after the Week 4 loss to the Arizona Cardinals. Rhule added that Sam Darnold (ankle) is still not ready to return from his high-ankle sprain. Darnold reportedly isn't close to coming off Injured Reserve, so the struggling Mayfield will have a little more leash as the starter under center. The 27-year-old has gone 64-for-117 for 747 yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions in his first four games with the Panthers. Mayfield is averaging a career-low 6.4 yards per attempt and 186.8 yards per game. He'll remain a low-end QB2 in superflex leagues going forward, and if he's still struggling when Darnold is healthy enough to return, the Panthers could be compelled to make a switch.

From RotoBaller

Jimmy Smith Oct 3 12:40pm ET
Jimmy Smith

Long-time Baltimore Ravens standout cornerback Jimmy Smith is retiring on Monday after 11 seasons with the team, the Ravens announced. Smith was originally drafted by Baltimore in the first round (27th overall) in 2011 out of the University of Colorado, and he spent all 11 seasons of his NFL career with the Ravens. In total, he racked up 374 tackles (324 solo), eight tackles for loss, three QB hits, 14 interceptions (two for touchdowns), 74 passes defensed, three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries (one touchdown) and three sacks in 128 regular season games (90 starts). The 34-year-old played in only 10 games (two starts) in 2021 and had 18 tackles (15 solo) and three passes defensed.

From RotoBaller

Kendrick Bourne Oct 3 12:40pm ET
Kendrick Bourne

New England Patriots wide receiver Kendrick Bourne had just two receptions on three targets for 23 yards in the 27-24 overtime loss to the Green Bay Packers in Week 4. He also added one carry for a 15-yard gain. On the bright side, Bourne played 45 percent of the team's offensive snaps, which was his highest mark in four games with Jakobi Meyers (knee) missing his second straight game. Still, it wasn't much action for the 27-year-old considering Meyers' absence, and with quarterback Mac Jones (ankle) and backup Brian Hoyer (head) now hurt, Bourne's fantasy appeal will take another hit if rookie third-stringer Bailey Zappe is forced to start in Week 5 against the Detroit Lions.

From RotoBaller

Darius Leonard Oct 3 12:33pm ET
Darius Leonard

Indianapolis Colts LB Shaquille Leonard (concussion) will be out for Week 5.

Fantasy Spin: He had just two tackles before exiting his first game of the year. Zaire Franklin will continue to get run in his absence and is a flex option.

From TheHuddle

Jamie Collins Oct 3 12:30pm ET
Jamie Collins

The New England Patriots are expected to sign free-agent linebacker Jamie Collins, according to sources. It remains to be seen if Collins will join the practice squad or the active roster, but he's expected to join the team in some capacity as they look for improved linebacker play. This will be Collins' fourth different stint with New England after they initially drafted him in the second round in 2013 out of South Miss. In 10 games with the Patriots in 2021, he had 20 tackles (11 solo), three tackles for loss, an interception and three passes defensed. The 32-year-old made the Pro Bowl back in 2015 and had over 100 combined tackles as recently as 2020 in 14 starts for the Detroit Lions.

From RotoBaller

Sam Darnold Oct 3 12:20pm ET
Sam Darnold

Carolina Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold (ankle) is now eligible to come off Injured Reserve, but he's not close to returning from the left high-ankle sprain that he suffered in late August, according to a source. In the words of the source, it's "going to be a while." It's good news for Baker Mayfield, who has underwhelmed in his first four games as the starter for Carolina. Mayfield has completed a career-low 54.7 percent of his 117 pass attempts for 747 yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions through four games. It's not as if Darnold would be any better, but when he's finally healthy again, he could put some heat on Darnold if he hasn't improved by then. The 25-year-old Darnold should remain on the waiver wire in all single-year leagues.

From RotoBaller

Jamison Crowder Oct 3 12:10pm ET
Jamison Crowder

Buffalo Bills veteran wide receiver Jamison Crowder (ankle) suffered a broken ankle in the Week 4 win over the Baltimore Ravens, according to a source. Crowder will have additional tests to see what other damage he might have, but he's now out indefinitely. It's a tough break for the 29-year-old slot man, who had just six catches on 13 targets for 60 yards in four games before his injury. He wasn't a realistic option for starting fantasy lineups with Isaiah McKenzie the starter in the slot in 2022. Crowder isn't a must-stash in deep single-season formats. McKenzie should see more targets as a result, and it should also mean more work for rookie Khalil Shakir, but don't expect much out of the youngster in redraft leagues.

From RotoBaller

Miles Sanders Oct 3 12:10pm ET
Miles Sanders

Philadelphia Eagles running back Miles Sanders proved in Week 4 that he can be a strong fantasy option in 2022, running for a career-high 134 yards in the 29-21 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars. It was the first time in his four-year career that the 25-year-old reached 27 carries in a game. In the first three weeks of the season, only one RB had 27-plus carries in a game. "Miles Sanders is our No. 1 back! There ain't no question about it!" head coach Nick Sirianni said. Sanders is playing the best football of his career and has become a must-start in fantasy lineups for the 4-0 Eagles. Through four games, he has 72 carries for 356 yards and three touchdowns without turning the ball over. Fantasy managers shouldn't expect 27 carries every week, but Sanders has proven to be up to the task in one of the best offenses in the league.

From RotoBaller

Landon Collins Oct 3 12:03pm ET
Landon Collins

Free-agent SS Landon Collins (Commanders) is visiting the New York Giants Monday, Oct. 3.

From TheHuddle

Sam Darnold Oct 3 11:53am ET
Sam Darnold

Carolina Panthers QB Sam Darnold (ankle) is eligible to come off the Reserve/Injured list, but he's not close to returning from a high-ankle sprain.

From TheHuddle

Jamie Collins Oct 3 11:53am ET
Jamie Collins

Free-agent LB Jamie Collins (Patriots) is likely to re-sign with the New England Patriots Monday, Oct. 3.

From TheHuddle

Jamison Crowder Oct 3 11:33am ET
Jamison Crowder

Buffalo Bills WR Jamison Crowder (ankle) suffered a broken ankle in Week 4 and will be out indefinitely. He'll undergo tests for potential other damage.

Fantasy Spin: He only had six grabs for 60 yards this year and hasn't been worth owning in fantasy.

From TheHuddle

Jimmy Smith Oct 3 10:33am ET
Jimmy Smith

Former Baltimore Ravens CB Jimmy Smith will sign a one-day contract with the team Monday, Oct. 3, to retire with the club.

From TheHuddle

Noah Fant Oct 3 8:50am ET
Noah Fant

Seattle Seahawks tight end Noah Fant was coming off a four-catch performance last week, but was barely seen on Sunday. The 24-year-old hauled in one of his two targets for two yards and a touchdown in the Week 4 win over the Detroit Lions. The Seahawks have struggled to get Fant consistently involved in this offense. Will Dissly is the better fantasy option between the two tight ends. It's hard to imagine Fant having much streaming value against the New Orleans Saints in Week 5.

From RotoBaller