There have been 12 seasons in Pittsburgh Steelers history in which a defensive player has recorded 12 or more sacks with the team. That is after second-year outside linebacker T.J. Watt recorded his 12th sack of the season last week against Drew Brees, his 11th coming the week before that against Tom Brady.
Heading into the season finale, facing the mobile backup, Jeff Driskel, Watt has the opportunity to really set himself apart. If he records two or more sacks, which is something that he has done four times before, including three times this season, he can move into the top five in franchise history.
Only five players in franchise history have ever recorded 14 or more sacks in a single season, the first being Keith Willis, a defensive end, in 1983. Mike Merriweather recorded 15 the following season, a record that held for decades until James Harrison’s 16-sack, Defensive Player of the Year campaign in 2008 pushed him into second place. Kevin Greene also had a 14-sack season in 1994.
It has been a decade since any defensive player has had more than 12 sacks in a season, however, when LaMarr Woodley recorded 13 and a half in 2009, his third year in the league and his second as a full-time starter. That was his career-high. In fact, before Cameron Heyward’s 12-sack season last year, no defensive player on the team had had a 10-sack season since Harrison and Woodley both did it in 2010.
In three games played so far against the Cincinnati Bengals, Watt has only recorded one sack, but they have allowed 33 on the season, a bit over two per game. And Watt will be going up against Bobby Hart, a player who was intended to be a backup, with Alex Redmond at right guard. The right side of their offensive line is certainly the weaker half.
While the former first-round pick’s sack production has actually dipped in recent weeks, the fact is that he has been improving as a pass rusher, which will set him up well for the future. The Steelers have been searching for a long time now for their next difference-making edge defender, and the youngest Watt brother in the NFL is providing indications of that potential. Four of his 12 sacks have also resulted in strips this year.
The defense is desperately in need of a playmaker, and Watt needs to be their primary candidate for that in 2019. He showed flashes of being able to make an impact in coverage as a rookie, but that seems to have gone by the wayside this year, actually regressing in coverage. But his improvements as a pass rusher have more than made up for his decreasing coverage role.