Statistically, and relative to accolades, T.J. Watt already had his breakout season a year ago when he recorded 13 sacks with six forced fumbles and was named to the Pro Bowl as one of two defensive representatives for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
But 2019 should be the year that he truly becomes a complete player and takes his game to a whole other level. That might not necessarily mean superior statistics, but he will have a more significant impact, from play to play, on the outcome of games, which is a fair tradeoff. And, of course, he could always outdo himself statistically as well.
New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick wouldn’t put it past him. He has had high praise for JuJu Smith-Schuster in the past—Antonio Brown as well, of course—and you can add Watt now to the list of Steelers he probably wishes were Patriots. After all, he did draft Chase Winovich.
Speaking to reporters earlier in the week in the buildup to today’s game, Belichick called him “one of the best guys we’ll face all year”, and frankly, it’s hard to recall the last time anybody has said that about any Steelers defender. He has the potential to be the best Steelers defender since James Harrison—yet another former Steeler who eventually ended up with the Patriots, albeit at the end of his journey.
In describing what Watt does well, and makes him a difficult assignment to block, Belichick said that it was “pretty much everything. He’s fast. He’s explosive. He’s strong but he’s quick. He can avoid players. Plays with good leverage”.
“He’s quick enough to move around guys and he’s powerful enough to play through them”, he added of the burgeoning Steelers star edge defender. “He has a good skill set. He’s a very instinctive a player. He’s a good pass rusher, has a high motor, comes hard on every play. He does a lot of things well”.
When the Steelers played the Patriots last year, Watt did record a sack against Brady and registered a few more hits on the quarterback in the process. He was one of the disruptive forces that helped contribute to the six-time Super Bowl champion’s rare off night.
He will need to deliver an encore performance tonight, in Foxboro, if the Steelers hope to get a result similar to the 17-10 win that they notched at Heinz Field last December. But of course it’s not all one just one player. He’s merely the one most likely to make that one significant splash play.