The Pittsburgh Steelers have had some terrible injury luck in the first half of the 2023 season. In addition to losing All-Pro defensive lineman Cameron Heyward to a groin injury from Week 1 until his return in Week 9, this team had both Diontae Johnson and Pat Freiermuth land on IR with hamstring injuries. Minkah Fitzpatrick was the latest to suffer a hamstring pull, and he could miss multiple weeks.
But as bad as those injuries were, this might be the most devastating of all. In Pittsburgh's Thursday Night Football victory over the Tennessee Titans, the Steelers lost the best off-ball linebacker on their team. Cole Holcomb went down grasping his left knee in excruciating pain after colliding with teammate Keanu Neal.
Right away, we could tell that something was seriously wrong. A video later circulated around Twitter showing the gruesome injury to Holcomb as his knee bent in a way that it was not designed to go. On Friday afternoon, Tom Pelissero of NFL Network confirmed that this indeed will be a season-ending injury for the Steelers' starting linebacker.
This is a bigger blow to the team than most fans realize. While Holcomb certainly doesn't have an All-Pro resume like Minkah Fitzpatrick or Cameron Heyward, we know that there is no shot at him returning this season, as the LB will undergo surgery. This means that, even if the Steelers make the playoffs, they will be without their best linebacker.
Why Holcomb's injury is such a big loss for the Steelers
Holcomb really was shaping up to be everything that Steelers fans were hoping he would be. Since the devastating career-ending spinal cord injury to Ryan Shazier, Pittsburgh has not been able to find even an average-level starter at the linebacker position.
Through roughly half a season in his first action with the Steelers, Holcomb truly looked like that three-down linebacker they have been missing all of these years. His excellent athletic traits helped him excel as a run defender, a blitzer, and in coverage. He was a player the team never needed to take off the field.
In less than 8 full games prior to his injury, Holcomb had compiled 54 tackles, 4 tackles for a loss, 2 forced fumbles, and 2 pass deflections, per Pro Football Reference. He also allowed a passer rating of just 84.3 on the season when targeted this year. What's worst is that Holcomb was playing the best football of his career in recent weeks.
In his absence, the Steelers will turn to a healthy dose of Kwon Alexander and Elandon Roberts to man the linebacker position. They may even look for outside help as well through free agency to fill the massive void he leaves behind.
The good news is that Cole Holcomb is expected to make a full recovery. The talented linebacker is under contract through the 2025 season. Let's hope the Steelers linebacker makes a speedy recovery and that he looks as good when he returns to the field in 2024.