So it’s time to have some fun with numbers. I would like to point out an interesting statistic that came to my attention recently about the Pittsburgh Steelers’ rookie defensive starter, outside linebacker T.J. Watt. Evidently—outside of some missed tackles, which need to be cleaned up—he has been one of the better run defenders at his position this season.
According to Pro Football Focus, he has accumulated 118 snaps against the run this season, recording 20 tackles. 12 of those tackles were credited as run stops, tackles that prevented the offense from having a successful play.
While means that on more than 10 percent of his snaps against the run, he produces a negative play for the offense. Only two other 3-4 outside linebackers can say the same: Khalil Mack of the Raiders, and Shaquil Barrett of the Broncos, whom the Steelers seriously should have pursued harder.
Barrett leads the position with a run-stop percentage of 11, recording 14 stops on 127 run snaps. Mack has 21 run stops on 198 run snaps for a 10.6 percentage. The closest to Watt’s 10.2-percent run stoppage is a full percentage point behind.
But, as mentioned, he has also had a number of missed tackles. PFF officially credits him with four missed tackles against the run, which is the second-most behind Lorenzo Alexander at the position. Bud Dupree also has three, and there are only six who have missed that many.
Dupree’s run-stop percentage, by the way, is just 5.3, which ranks 23rd among qualified players, recording eight run stops on 151 run snaps. that is out of a total of 28 players at the position who have played at least 50 percent of the run snaps.
The Steelers really need to use this bye week to recuperate and regather themselves, to work on some fundamentals and clean up some of the things that have been holding them back, things that could end up being the difference between a win and a loss someday.
They have been fortunate quite a bit this year, though they have also created a lot of their own problems, especially in the run defense. The secondary in particular, aside from Mike Hilton, has struggled at times in staying in their gaps and in finishing through tackle, which have contributed to some big rushing days.
I do think that this statistic somewhat validates the idea that a lot the issues in the run game haven’t been Watt’s fault, which is something I’ve seen suggested at times. Sure, he has made mistakes, as any rookie would, but overall, he has been an asset, which is why he’s been playing.
And I know a lot of people take issue with Pro Football Focus, but these are pretty concrete numbers. Run snaps are pretty clear. Tackles are pretty clear—they’re in the game book. Run stops are clearly defined, and we’ve defined them a number of times. Our data is in line with theirs, but they have data for the entire league, so it’s interesting to draw comparisons.