The Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense has been in need of a feel-good story for several weeks now, and second-year outside linebacker T.J. Watt just gave them one. Even though the Atlanta Falcons threw for over 300 yards and rushed for another 62, they did neither efficiently, and Watt had a hand in both.
The former first-round pick led all players on both teams with eight tackles (including sacks), and for the second time this season, posted three sacks in a game. His final sack came in the fourth quarter, stripping Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan of the football. The ball rolled into the end zone, where it was recovered by L.J. Fort for a defensive score.
He registered two tackles for loss in addition to his three sacks, and three of his tackles were defensive stops. He was an active presence and looked to be at his best so far this season—better than in the season opener, the other game in which he recorded three sacks.
His three were just half of six that the defense had as a whole on the day. Cameron Heyward, L.J. Fort, and Jon Bostic also added to the mix, Heyward credited with one and a half, splitting one with Bostic. Of course, Bostic was also penalized for a late hit at the end.
The Steelers need Watt to be a leader and part of the heart and soul of this defensive unit, and he has certainly shown indications over his first 20 games that he can be that. he does have 13 sacks during that span, including six in the first five games of this season, though he went three straight games without any.
What he needs to do next is level out his play, because there are too many valleys in between the peaks. He needs to bring game-to-game consistency as best as he can without going silent. Sometimes game circumstances will dictate a lesser role, but he can be more balanced on the whole.
There’s no doubt that he was a big reason the defense held the Falcons to just 17 points today, who came into this game as one of the top scoring offenses in the NFL, despite the fact that they are now just 1-4 on the season. They blew fourth-quarter leads in their first three losses, but never held the lead today.