With 352 starting defensive players taking the field week in and week out in the NFL, only two players (one from each conference) can earn Defensive Player of the Week honors. That's exactly what Alex Highsmith just did following a dominant performance in Week 2 against the Cleveland Browns, Teresa Varley of Steelers.com reports.
While T.J. Watt certainly steals the spotlight most weeks, the Browns did their best effort to contain the 2021 Defensive Player of the Year by sending a man to chipp on Watt so he could be easier for rookie OT Dawand Jones to handle. This worked for much of the game, but Watt still earned a sack -- officially breaking the Steelers all-time record.
With the focus on Watt, Highsmith was cooking. However, his best play of the game didn't come as a pass rusher; rather, it was one of the rare occasions in which he dropped back into coverage. Highsmith read QB Deshaun Watson's eyes and picked off a pass that was tipped in the air by both the intended receiver and safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. -- returning the interception for a touchdown.
That was hardly the only splash play that Highsmith made. With roughly seven minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Highsmith had a clutch strip-sack which T.J. Watt scooped up and returned for a touchdown.
Highsmith was directly responsible for aiding the Steelers with 14 points scored from their defense, and it's hard to argue that they would have won this game without him. Highsmith finished his impressive Week 2 outing against the Browns with 7 tackles, 1 sack, 1 tackle for a loss, 1 forced fumble, 1 pass defended, 2 QB hits, and 1 defensive touchdown, per ESPN stats.
Alex Highsmith extension pays dividends for the Steelers
If you are wondering why the Pittsburgh Steelers forked up $17 million per season for Alex Highsmith on a new contract extension, you got your answer on Monday Night Football.
With a combined $45 million per year distributed between their top two edge defenders, this investment is clearly paying dividends. Watt and Highsmith are largely responsible for the first win of the season against the Browns despite a dreadful performance by the offense.
So far this season, Highsmith looks like one of the best pass rushers in the NFL. We may no longer be looking at a 'Batman and Robin' situation with Watt and Highsmith. Instead, the Steelers may have a pair of 'Batmans' on their hand with one of the best EDGE duos in the NFL.
We're hoping this is far from the last time that Alex Highsmith earns AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors, and this was well-deserved. He will be an integral part of the Steelers defense moving forward.