I think it would be fair to say that Pittsburgh Steelers fans are really hungering to find their team’s next elite pass-rusher—or at least anything that comes close to resembling such. Since the dominant pairing of James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley fell apart, the team has been searching for edge help, and the results have been underwhelming.
Jarvis Jones cycled in and out over four years. While Bud Dupree has been better, he is still looking to find his game three years in. rookie T.J. Watt already appears to be the best of the three in his rookie season, and is third on the team with six sacks. Sunday was one of the best pass-rushing games of his season to date.
The first example I want to take a look at comes on the final play of the Ravens’ opening drive, which was intercepted. Watt, lined up in his traditional spot off the defensive right edge, played wide as a nine-tech, virtually, but instead of rushing wide, cut inside and harassed Ronnie Stanley. While he wasn’t able to get depth in the pocket, he crashed the throwing lane and got his hands up, which likely affected Joe Flacco’s throw.
Still later in the first, with the Ravens looking at a first and 10 around midfield, the rookie again came in from the same position, but this time took the wide angle. He was able to dip under Stanley and knocked Flacco to the ground, forcing a ball that his receiver had to dive for.
Into the second quarter, Watt was this time meant to be picked up by the pulling tight end, but his speed and athleticism prevented that from happening, again getting Flacco to the ground. Unfortunately the rest of the defense failed to prevent Alex Collins from cutting upfield for 20 yards.
Now into the third quarter, the Ravens showed max protection in the backfield pre-snap, but the near blocker leaked out for a pass. Watt on this rep showed something of his repertoire, swatting Stanley’s hands down to get around him and putting Flacco down once again for the third time of the game.
Now into the fourth quarter, on the final drive of the game, he showed something of a bull rush a few plays before the end, sending the left tackle hopping backwards. Converting speed to power is an essential tool in the pass-rushing kit, so you want to see that, and we did there.
And boy does he have speed, and athleticism. Watt iced the game coming off the defensive left side on the final snap, beating the less limber Austin Howard first with a chop and then by dipping and turning the arc.
It was enough to flush Flacco out of the pocket, and though he has above-average mobility for a quarterback, Watt’s pursuit was relentless. His heady use of his arm to tomahawk the ball out as he sacked the quarterback was a veteran move.
And he’s at the beginning of his career.