Per Ian Rapoport of NFL Network, Fitzpatrick was downgraded to out due to appendicitis. Just like that, the NFL‘s 31st-ranked defense gets even weaker in its secondary. Fitzpatrick, the two-time All-Pro selection, has suited up in seven games this season. He missed Pittsburgh’s 20-18 Week 6 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-5) with a knee injury. He has been a bright spot on an otherwise uninspiring Steelers team, racking up 45 tackles with three interceptions (one pick-six) and six pass defenses.
His absence comes as the Steelers get back their defensive MVP in linebacker TJ Watt. Watt will make his return from a torn pectoral muscle in Week 1. He also underwent arthroscopic knee surgery in October to clean up a lingering preseason injury. Watt, who had 22.5 sacks last season en route to winning AP Defensive Player of the Year, is unlikely to play the full 60 in his return.
Steelers Looking Forward to Healthy TJ Watt
“I don’t think it’ll be a full 60-play game for him,” defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said this week. “I don’t think that’s realistic to think for a guy coming back after seven weeks, eight weeks. But we’ll get what we can out of him.”
Even a limited Watt will help the Steelers, as the pass-rush has been at times nonexistent since his injury. The Steelers have 15.0 sacks this season, good for 27th in the league. 7.0 of those came in the 23-20 Week 1 win over the Cincinnati Bengals (5-4).
“I think everybody in here is trying to find a spark and get in the win column,” Watt told reporters this week. “Every week starts with a great week of practice, which I feel we’ve had. I’m excited to go out and see what we’re made of.”