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Contextualizing The Steelers 2017 Sack Production: OLB T.J. Watt

While all sacks are created equal in a game book or on a stat sheet, not all of them really are when you look at why and how each one happened. Throughout the offseason I plan on looking at each of 56 sacks the Pittsburgh Steelers defense registered during the 2017 regular season and attempt to contextualize each of them. This process should help identify which defensive players are earning their sacks more than others.

We’ll continue on with this series of posts by looking at and contextualizing the 7 sacks that Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt registered during the 2017 season.


Sack #1 – Week 1 vs. Browns – 3Q – 2-8-PIT 9 – (11:01) (Shotgun) D.Kizer sacked at PIT 17 for -8 yards (T.Watt) – TIME 8.14 seconds

Watt’s first sack of the 2017 season came in Week 1 against the Cleveland Browns and it was a high-effort one at that. At the snap, Watt easily tosses the tight end end aside and then swims past the running back to the inside. His pressure forced rookie Browns quarterback DeShone Kizer out of the pocket to his left. Watt continues working on the play and eventually tracks down Kizer for a rare 8-second sack.


Sack #2 – Week 1 vs. Browns – 3Q – 2-15-CLV 20 – (5:03) D.Kizer sacked at CLV 17 for -3 yards (T.Watt) – TIME 3.76 seconds

Watt’s second sack of the 2017 season also came in Week 1 against the Browns and late in the third quarter. On this sack, Watt gets matched up one-on-one with Browns left tackle Joe Thomas and after first rushing up the arc, Watt uses a very nice spin to against Thomas in order to gain access to the pocket. Thomas, the NFL’s best left tackle, even seems to be caught off guard a little bit by Watt’s ability to spin back inside. Look at Thomas’ feet on the play. The Steelers had decent pressure across their front on this play and Watt is able to get home to Kizer first for the sack.


Sack #3 – Week 5 vs. Jaguars – 3Q – 3-7-JAX 28 – (8:05) (Shotgun) B.Bortles sacked at JAX 25 for -3 yards (T.Watt) – TIME 4.37 seconds

Against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 5 is when Watt registered his third sack of the season. On this play, Watt rushes wide to the outside and that allows a nice twist stunt to happen inside. After a half-effort chip on Watt by the tight end, the outside linebacker is able to use his hands and arms in an effort to work back to the pocket where he ultimately finds Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles attempting to escape the inside pressure.


Sack #4 – Week 7 vs. Bengals – 4Q – 3-3-CIN 45 – (13:35) (Shotgun) A.Dalton sacked at CIN 38 for -7 yards (T.Watt) – TIME 3.08 seconds

Watt’s fourth sack of the season in Week 7 against the Cincinnati Bengals was not only his quickest one of the seven, it probably was his highest quality one as well. On this 3rd down play, Watt uses a nice move at the snap of the football to gain access to the B-gap between the left tackle and left guard. Watt is even able to fight through a hold attempt by the left guard on his way to diving for the legs of Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton. This is just another example of Watt’s great athleticism.


Sack #5 – Week 12 vs. Packers – 4Q – 1-10-GB 18 – (1:20) (Shotgun) B.Hundley sacked at GB 12 for -6 yards (T.Watt) – TIME 4.87 seconds

Watt had to wait several more weeks for his next sack. His fifth one came in Week 12 against the Green Bay Packers and it was in essence a coverage sack. The 1st down play begins with Watt being off the ball and dropping into a zone coverage. Once the tight end to his side vacates the zone he’s in, Watt reads the situation and pressure his teammates are putting on Packers quarterback Brett Hundley. Watt breaks forward and easily meets Hundley while he’s attempting to escape the pocket for the sack.


Sack #6 – Week 14 vs. Ravens – 4Q – 3-10-BLT 39 – (:16) (Shotgun) J.Flacco sacked at BLT 31 for -8 yards (T.Watt) – TIME 5.21 seconds

Watt’s sixth sack of the season was probably the one most fans will remember. This one came very late in the game against the Baltimore Ravens. On this sack, Watt actually rushed from the left side and after getting around the right tackle after initially missing with a hand chop, he chases down Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco as he tries to buy time by escaping to his left. Not only does Watt chase Flacco down, he forces the Ravens quarterback to fumble the football forward and out of bounds and this results in the final time left on the game clock to be run off. This was the final play of the Week 14 game that the Steelers won by just a point.


Sack #7 – Week 17 vs. Browns – 2Q – 2-6-CLV 46 – (2:55) (Shotgun) D.Kizer sacked at CLV 45 for -1 yards (T.Watt) – TIME 6.39 seconds

Watt’s seventh and final sack of his rookie season came in the Week 17 finale against the Browns. There wasn’t much to this 2nd down sack other than Watt showing great awareness and athleticism as he chases down an escaping Kizer for a sideline sack. Another high-effort sack for Watt.


Summary: While not a lot of high-quality sacks for Watt during his rookie season, we did see the Steelers 2017 first-round draft pick register quite a few high-effort, high-awareness sacks. Only two of his seven total sacks came within 4.37 seconds of the football being snapped. While there’s obviously a lot to like about Watt when it comes to his awareness and athleticism, he still has a long way to go when it comes to being a complete pass-rusher. In 2018 I suspect we’ll see Watt have a larger selection of counters and potentially him using speed to power more. We barely saw him use a bull rush or rip move during his rookie season that resulted in a noticeable win and that was a match of his final season at Wisconsin. 2018 could and better be a double-digit sack season for Watt with a few more higher-quality ones included.

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