The development of second-year outside linebacker T.J. Watt has been an interesting one to watch, even over the course of the season. He far outpaces anybody else on the team with his 12 sacks, but even though he only has had two of them in his past five games, he has been playing at arguably his highest level during that time.
This is in contrast to his earlier games, according to Pro Football Focus, something that they and I have already written about. Author Austin Gayle wrote a piece over a month ago talking about how his 10 sacks were not actually reflective of his overall ability to win as a pass rusher.
The author used the data that they have collected to predict a regression in his numbers based on his performance. The same author had to issue a mea culpa after the past four weeks, however, writing that Watt has been proving him wrong. He put it into words and images in a new article published on the site yesterday.
One thing that he highlights is how the edge rusher has worked not only to improve his counterattack on the pass rush, but to set it up to succeed. Gayle wrote that Watt really struggled to gain any pressure for most of the year on inside counter moves, but he has had some high-quality wins there over the past several games. But he’s also gotten better at what he’s already good at.
“Watt’s bread & butter, the speed rush to the outside shoulder and dip underneath, has improved and hit at a higher rate in recent weeks”, he writes, and he highlights a play from Sunday in which he was able to win around the corner against Will Clapp for his sack of Drew Brees.
He went on to note that after recording just five pressures on inside moves during the first 11 games, he has done so seven times in just the past four. He has worked both a swim move and a spin to get inside in recent weeks, and Gayle presents examples of both.
“Developing a counter move outside of one’s bread & butter is paramount to sustained pass-rush success”, the author concluded. “Watt’s inside spin and inside swim moves are finally starting to hit home, which, if sustained across a larger sample size in 2019, could earn him a seat among the league’s best at the position sooner rather than later”.
It reminds me somewhat of Jason Worilds in the late stages of his career with the Steelers, when he finally learned how to hit on his own spin move. He began to have success using it both on the outside and as an inside counter, and was finally developing into a legitimate pass rusher before he elected to retire.