Injuries Plague Steelers Heading into Week 3 vs. Bengals

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This past weekend was a tough one to be a Pittsburgh football fan.  Pitt started the weekend off with a stunning 44-41 loss to Western Michigan on Saturday, while the Steelers followed suit on Sunday with a disappointing 26-17 loss to the Las Vegas Raiders.  The bad news, however, would continue into the days following these losses.  

Earlier this week, it was announced that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and wide receiver Diontae Johnson came out of Sunday's game with significant injuries, putting their availability in question heading into a Week 3 matchup with the Cincinnati Bengals.  These add onto linebacker T.J. Watt leaving the game with an injured groin and nose tackle Tyson Alualu suffering a broken ankle.  Coming off a tough loss, the unknowns surrounding the injuries to these star players will certainly have an impact on this week's game and the team's ability to rebound against an inferior divisional rival.

Big Ben 

The most surprising injury to pop up after Sunday's game vs. Las Vegas was the announcement of Ben Roethlisberger dealing with an injured left pectoral.  When coach Mike Tomlin revealed this to the media, he added that he and the quarterback don't know specifically when the injury occurred but that he feels pain when he reaches.  

Now, Ben was able to finish the game so that is certainly a good sign.  And we all know that Ben is no stranger to battling various aches and pains over the course of the season, and more often than not, he plays through them.  So based on all of the above, I want to believe that Ben will play through this as per usual.  Considering the offense has looked less than spectacular thus far, this would be the perfect week for him to turn things around against a subpar Cincinnati defense.

Diontae Johnson Questionable

The status of the other offensive star seems a lot murkier than that of Ben.  Diontae Johnson picked up a knee injury along the sideline on the very last play of the game.  When asked about the injury earlier this week, Mike Tomlin gave an answer that is very on-brand for a man who always has a way with his words:  "He's looking better, but not to be confused with great."  

Trying to decipher Tomlin-isms can make any man's head hurt.  But based off of this statement, it sure seems like Johnson is trending more towards being out than being available to play.  This would be a big loss for the offense.  Johnson has the fifth most targets of all pass-catchers in the league after two weeks.  For an offense that has struggled to start the season, losing your quarterback's favorite option is a big hit no matter how deep the receiving corps is.

Dented Steel Curtain

As for the defensive side of the ball, the most notable injury came to newly-paid T.J. Watt, who left the game against the Raiders with a groin injury midway through the first half.  The cameras panned to Watt standing on the sideline, no helmet, no gloves and not receiving any sort of treatment.  It was a pretty telling sign that Watt's day was done.  

Now it could have been precautionary considering the amount of money the Steelers just paid him, but it certainly was not a good sign that Watt was ruled out for the rest of the game, and so soon after the injury occurred.  Early reports believe Watt will be able to play this upcoming weekend, with a possible snap count limit, but I'm not sure that will be the case.  The Bengals offense does not present the greatest of threats so I would not be surprised to see the Steelers hold Watt out, allowing him an extra week to get healthy.  

The Watt injury came on the heels of nose tackle Tyson Alualu fracturing his ankle Sunday.  This creates two huge losses to the defensive front that was the driving force to the Week 1 win against the Buffalo Bills.  So far this season, the defense has been the catalyst for the Steelers and the absences of Watt and Alualu will undoubtedly be felt by the entire team.

The Look Ahead

All in all, injuries of this magnitude after one game are never a good sign for any team, let alone a team coming off of a letdown loss at home.  The only positive in this situation is that the Bengals are the next opponent on the schedule and they are expected to finish last in the AFC North.  You don't ever want to take an opponent lightly, especially a division rival, but I believe the Steelers can escape this week with a win even in the face of these injuries.  

If I had to guess, I think Ben will play, while Johnson and Watt will be held out, but I wouldn't be completely shocked to see all three sit.  Backup quarterback Mason Rudolph has enough experience under his belt that even he should be able to command this offense and get some points against this weak Bengal defense.  We will certainly learn more about the severity of these injuries as the week goes on but early indications are not ideal for a team looking to the right the ship after a disappointing 2020 season and Week 2 loss.