The offseason is inevitably a period of projection and speculation, which makes it the ideal time to ponder the hypotheticals that the Pittsburgh Steelers will face over the course of the next year, whether it is addressing free agency, the draft, performance on the field, or some more ephemeral topic.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: T.J. Watt will break James Harrison’s franchise single-season sack record.
Explanation: With four games left to play in the season, this is a topic I’m revisiting. I first posed this statement all the way back in June as Watt game off a 12-sack season, making the Pro Bowl. With a quarter of the season left to play, he has 12.5 sacks this year. If he averages one sack per game over the final four games, he will eclipse Harrison’s mark of 16 sacks set in 2008.
It’s been a long time since Watt has played in a game and didn’t record a sack. He has at least one half of a sack in each of the past four games, during which time he has put up 11.5 of his 12.5 sacks. He has one in each of the past three games, but just prior to that, he put together three consecutive multi-sack games.
With the way that Watt is playing right now, it’s pretty much assumed that he is going to get to the quarterback at least once per game. We are reaching the point where it would be considered an upset if he doesn’t average a sack per game or better this year. He’s just playing that well.
One thing to consider is that he has an opportunity ripe for the picking this week. Kyler Murray has been sacked quite a bit this year, and a lot of it has been his own fault. That means he’s taking sacks on extended plays, and Watt is certainly taking advantage of those hustle opportunities, so he could get halfway there or more.
At the same time, it has to be acknowledged that sack production is a mercurial thing that isn’t a foolproof method of evaluation pass rush success. I have no doubt that he will continue to be one of the most effective pass rushers in terms of beating tackles and generating pressure, but actually getting the sack and finishing the play is something that can wax and wane. Just look at Khalil Mack this year.
Another thing to consider: in five road games so far this year, Watt has only put up two and a half sacks. He has 10 sacks in seven home games, by contrast. Three of the Steelers’ final four games are on the road.