Entering his third season, there is really no debate over the fact that outside linebacker T.J. Watt is not only one of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ best players on the defensive side of the ball, but also one of the most important. Making the Pro Bowl in 2018, he recorded 13 sacks with six forced fumbles, and he expects even more of himself in year ago.
While he didn’t load up the stat sheet in the opener, Watt was one of the few consistent players for the team on either side of the ball. He did generate some pressure, even hitting Tom Brady’s arm on one play, which still resulted in a completion for a short gain to Julian Edelman.
He knows that Russell Wilson is a different task entirely from Brady, however, something that he talked about with reporters during his media availability after practice yesterday, in which he was a full participant after being limited on Wednesday. He said the front seven has to be disciplined in their rushing lanes and communication to keep the mobile quarterback contained.
“Knowing what kind of risks you can and can’t take as a pass rusher” is one of the top priorities. “If there’s an inside move that looks like it’s there, I’ve got to make sure that I tell the d-line that I’m going to be going inside, otherwise he’s going to have a free path on the edge, and once he gets out on the edge, he’s very quick, and very smart with the ball. If he’s got a passing lane, he’ll take the pass; otherwise he’ll run for 10 yards, easy”.
Wilson didn’t scramble much against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday—really, the Bengals controlled the ball for most of the game, even though they lost—but the threat for him to do so is always there. He is going to continue to look to throw, and he’s able to make plays down the field as a result, but he can hurt you with his legs as well if the coverage is sound but the rush-lane integrity is not.
While containment wasn’t really an issue against Brady and the New England Patriots on Sunday, Watt did express some concern over the lack of communication on defense. When asked about what needs to be improved, he cited the need for “everyone being on the same page”.
“Just trying to simplify things a little bit, just so we’re not all on different pages, and just trying to play as fast and as smart as we know we can” is what they need to focus on this week, he suggested. “We know we’re a quick defense. We know we can play fast at an elite level. It’s just a matter of all being on the same page and all knowing what everyone’s got”.
The Steelers committed resources to improving the defense this year with the signings of Mark Barron and Steven Nelson and the drafting of Devin Bush, but that didn’t make much of a difference Sunday, and it won’t if the unit as a whole can’t all play fast and play together.