T.J. Watt had a breakout season for himself in 2018, posting 13 sacks and six forced fumbles in a season in which the Pittsburgh Steelers gave him more opportunities to rush the passer. Nobody has had a season like that in the better part of a decade for this defense.
One of the things that we talked about in terms of his ability to rush the passer is how it matured and evolved over the course of the season, at least from the outside looking in. it seemed as though he was expanding his repertoire and having more success winning against tackles.
It turns out, Watt was well aware of the growth himself. “I think I did a good job of trying to evolve my game as the season went on. That is what I am really proud of”, he told the team’s website recently in an article published yesterday by Teresa Varley.
“Trying new moves. Trying new ways to get to the quarterback”, he said in a remark that reveals that what I wrote above indeed was true. “I wish I would have started that a lot earlier. This is only my fourth year playing defense so I am still figuring a lot of that stuff out”.
It was also his first season rushing from the left side of the defense, as he started on the right side during his rookie season. Both he and Bud Dupree have previously talked about how the switch has helped each of them, Watt saying that rushing from the left side makes it easier for him to play to what he believes are his strengths.
Still, the move from the right to the left is not why he went from seven sacks in 2017 to 13 in 2018. In fact, it wasn’t really even about the sacks as the indicator of his improvement. He actually had more total sacks in the games prior to his being more experimental in his pass rush, but he won more frequently against tackles and recorded a higher percentage of pressures on the quarterback as the season wore on. But he still wants more.
“I just felt like I was close a lot of times. I felt like I could have gotten a lot closer”, he said. “I am just happy we were able to rush a lot more and be able to affect the quarterback more. I hope next year will be something special”.
Since drafting Watt, the Steelers have posted two of their highest sack totals in a season in team history, including the franchise record in 2017. Their totals have also been the highest in the league for that respective season.
It’s probably worth keeping in mind that Watt can post fewer sacks in 2019 and still be better than he was last year. Not that he would be happy with that, but I wanted to put that out there in case he has, say, 10 this year instead of 15 and people wonder ‘what happened’ to him.