About a month ago, I wrote an article in which I shared some information passed along through Pro Football Focus detailing some of the nuances behind Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt’s performance in 2018. He had reached 10 sacks, the first player at his position on the team to do so in a while, but was that really indicative of the quality of his performance?
PFF’s numbers indicated that that was not the case. Among the numbers that they cited was his very high pressure-to-sack ratio, which is not sustainable. That was coupled with a below average ‘win’ percentage in his pass rushes against an opponent. He also had among the highest percentages of his pressures come from unblocked plays in the league.
Austin Gayle was the author of that particular article citing those numbers, and I didn’t really think he was wrong. But I also thought that Watt was on an upward trajectory, playing better and having more individual success as the season wore on, which is something that he has continued to do over the course of the past several weeks.
Gayle agrees with that, too. He Tweeted about it yesterday, pointing out that over the past five weeks, he has posted a win rate on his pass rushes literally twice as high as what he was seeing up to that point in the year (the first 11 weeks). His win rate up to Week 11 was just 13.1 percent. In the past five games, he has been winning at a 26.3 percent clip.
Through Week 11, T.J. Watt had a low pass-rush win rate (13.1) and an absurd 30.3 sack percentage, both signs of impending regression.
However, Watt’s win rate (26.3) has exploded in Weeks 12-16.
Credit where credit’s due; he’s proving me wrong.
— Austin Gayle (@PFF_AustinGayle) December 24, 2018
“Credit where credit’s due”, he offered; “he’s proving me wrong”.
Watt has ‘only’ added two more sacks to his season total over the span of the past five games—getting to Tom Brady and Drew Brees, it’s worth noting—but he’s been getting pressure, and getting that pressure by winning rather than scheming, more frequently than at any other point in his career.
And that more than his sack total gives me hope for the future. I think it’s fair to say that he is the most complete and perhaps the best player on this defense already. If he can continue to make the progression as a pass-rusher that he has seen in recent weeks, that would be very good news for 2019 and beyond.
It’s worth noting that the Steelers have been sending their outside linebackers to rush the passer more frequently than they were last season, so he has been given more opportunities to win as well. It makes sense, though. If you’re having success at something, do it more.
Pittsburgh longs to get a consistent pass rush with four-man pressures, and they’ve honestly done a pretty good job of that this season. The numbers bear that out, as the Steelers have among the highest pressure rates per passing snap in the league.
Going by PFF’s numbers, Watt has generated 19 pressures on 147 rushes over the past five games. They’ve given him the eighth-highest pass-rushing grade among all edge defenders in the league in that span. In the first 11 weeks, he was graded 28th among those with at least 340 snaps, credited with 33 pressures on 290 rushes, many of them unblocked.