After falling flat against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 1, Mike Tomlin and the Pittsburgh Steelers will be looking for a shot at redemption on Monday Night Football against the Cleveland Browns. The Steelers can ill-afford to start the season 0-2 -- especially if that means surrendering a game to a division rival and allowing the Browns to advance to 2-0 against AFC North teams.
Unfortunately, Pittsburgh will be without the aid of two of their most important players. Cameron Heyward suffered a groin injury that requires surgery, and he could miss up to eight games this year. Meanwhile, Diontae Johnson sustained a hamstring injury and may not be able to suit up for a few weeks.
Others will undoubtedly need to step up in the absence of Heyward and Johnson if the Steelers are to come away with a victory against the Browns on Monday Night Football. Here are four players all eyes should be on in Week 2.
1. Calvin Austin III, WR
Calvin Austin III finds himself with a golden opportunity to step into a significant receiving role in the coming weeks. With Diontae Johnson expected to miss multiple weeks, the Steelers are banking on the rest of the WR room to compensate for the loss of last year's team leader in both yards and receptions.
Austin, currently positioned just behind Johnson on the depth chart, seems like he is up for the task. In his NFL Debut against the 49ers, the lightning-fast wide receiver made an immediate impact, leading the team in receptions. It is important to note that half of these receptions came after Johnson went down with his injury as well.
Austin III's journey with the team started out shaky due to injuries that ended his rookie season before it ever started. However, with two impressive training camps and his inaugural NFL snaps behind him, Austin III is now poised to assume a significant role in Johnson's absence.
2. Keeanu Benton, DL
With Pro Bowler Cameron Heyward out for up to 8 Weeks, a significant hole needs to be filled along the Steelers' defensive line and it needs to be filled fast. On Monday Night Football, the Steelers defensive line will be tasked with stopping a dominant Cleveland Browns rushing attack that just put up over 200 yards in a 24-3 win over the Bengals.
It's likely that no one player will be able to make up for the loss of Heyward, but one player who could certainly help ease the pain is Keeanu Benton. The rookie nose tackle was one of the few Steelers defenders who actually showed up to play last week, putting together a strong NFL Debut.
Benton recorded 3 tackles and 1 pressure in 29 snaps and received a solid overall grade of 86.1 against the 49ers, per Pro Football Focus. Although the sample size is small, Keeanu Benton is one to keep an eye on as the Steelers look to ease the loss of Heyward and get back on track this week against the Browns.
3. T.J. Watt, EDGE
Despite all of the ups and downs that Steelers fans have experienced over the past few years, there is one constant that we can rely on each week: TJ Watt dominating his opponents. Following another exceptional performance against the 49ers, which consisted of 3 sacks and 2 forced fumbles, TJ Watt has tied James Harrison's all-time Steelers sack record.
Now, the Browns have announced RT Jack Conklin will be out for the season and rookie RT Dawand Jones will be lining up across from Watt. I don't know about you, but I am extremely excited about this mismatch of a matchup, especially considering how historically great Watt has been against the Browns.
Watt currently has 15 sacks across 10 career games vs. Cleveland. Whenever the Steelers defense is on the field, I fixate my eyes on #90 at the top of the screen, and I strongly advise you all to do the same this week.
4. Kenny Pickett, QB
I've been a staunch believer in Kenny Pickett from the beginning, but last week was the first time I began to have serious doubts about his ability to develop into the franchise guy. His performance in week one was arguably the worst I've ever seen out of him.
He consistently lagged behind receivers on throws, struggled with reading the field, and made questionable decisions that led to interceptions.
This week, it will be intriguing to see if he can bounce back and build upon his strong end to last season and impressive preseason, or if we'll witness more of the same sloppy play we saw from him against the 49ers.