I’m not quite sure what it is—okay, actually I kind of do—but Pittsburgh Steelers second-year outside linebacker T.J. Watt seems to love playing against the Cleveland Browns. The 2017 second-round pick has now played in four games against the AFC North bottom-dwellers, and he has come up with at least one sack in every meeting.
In fact, of his 14 total sacks in his first 22 games, seven of them, a full half, have come against the Browns. Watt had two sacks in the very first game of his career before adding another in the season finale against them. He bought down Tyrod Taylor three times in this year’s opener and then got Baker Mayfield for one yesterday. He also sacked DeShone Kizer three times over two games last season, meaning that he has already sacked three different quarterbacks for the Browns.
Watt’s sack of Mayfield yesterday really helped open the game open—or rather to close it. After the Steelers scored on a 12-yard James Conner touchdown, the outside linebacker brought Mayfield down for a sack and a loss of four yards that precipitated a three-and-out late in the third quarter. He and Stephon Tuitt also pressured Mayfield on an incompletion on third down.
Of his six tackles, five were considered defensive stops, and two of them resulted in negative yardage, which does not factor in his sack. He and Mike Hilton combined for a stop of Nick Chubb early in the first quarter for a loss of three yards, and then he had a solo tackle against the rookie running back for a loss of two at the top of the second quarter.
Overall, it was one of his stronger games of the season, seeming to function well in every area, from rushing the passer (he had numerous pressures in addition to the sack), playing the run (multiple run stops and strong work setting the edge), and coverage as well (even lining up in the slot on one snap).
The pedigreed linebacker has been unquestionably one of the Steelers’ best players on the defensive side of the ball this year, and they can’t afford for him not to be. But while he has seven sacks, they do need him to start making more splash plays, with just one forced fumble and no interceptions so far this season.
The Steelers did get one turnover yesterday against the Browns, provided by a former Cleveland defender in Joe Haden with his first interception of the season. It was just the ninth turnover of the year for the defense in seven games, while the offense has turned it over 12 times. The Browns have 22 takeaways on the season, including eight over two games against Pittsburgh.