While the Pittsburgh Steelers were just a small step above being a dumpster fire for the most part on Sunday night during their 33-3 loss to the New England Patriots, that’s not to say that there were no bright spots to be found on the day. One such bright spot was third-year outside linebacker T.J. Watt, who remains primed to have a breakout season, if last year wasn’t already.
Watt, who for the first time in his career was given the responsibility of wearing the green dot on his helmet, which signals that it contains the sideline communication and makes him responsible for relaying the calls to the rest of the defense, didn’t exactly light of the stat sheet.
He only recorded two tackles, one an assist, though one of them was for a three-yard loss. The other tackle was an assist along with Tyson Alualu on a three-yard run on first and 10, so both of his official statistics would be considered defensive stops.
He influenced several other plays that don’t officially show up on the back of his football card, however. He was a somewhat frequent presence in the backfield, even getting a hit on Tom Brady a few times, even though he didn’t record a sack. On one play, he actually hit Brady’s arm, but the quarterback was still able to complete the pass to Julian Edelman for a positive play. Other pressures did force incompletions.
In spite of the ugly night overall, Pro Football Focus recognized Watt’s individual performance, as he earned Team of the Week Honors through the outlet for the first week of the season, paired with Cincinnati Bengals second-year defensive end Sam Hubbard as the two edge defenders on the defense.
“It was a rough night for the Steelers all around, but edge defender T.J. Watt was one player who stood out for them in a good way”, Gordon McGuinness wrote. “Watt rushed the passer 32 times, racking up three hits and four hurries. Watt improved in Year 2 in the NFL and, if last night is anything to go by, he’s set for an even bigger year in 2019”.
Last season, Watt registered 68 tackles in addition to 13 sacks, six forced fumbles, and three passes defensed, for which performance he was recognized as a Pro Bowl alternate. He ultimately got the opportunity to go to the Pro Bowl and so is officially recognized as such.
While his stat line won’t show it, his performance against the Patriots, largely against a very good right tackle in Marcus Cannon, are an indication that he is continuing to take his game to another level, picking up where he left off at the end of last season. If he continues to do that, then the plays will come. And the defense needs them.