While the acquisition of Minkah Fitzpatrick has largely been credited with serving as the turning point for the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense, and thus the team—the alternative, after all, would have been Kameron Kelly, and now I suppose Jordan Dangerfield—the genesis of the unit’s success really has lived within the star pass rusher, T.J. Watt.
In his third season since being taken in the first round, the youngest Watt brother has truly and fully blossomed into his own, not only putting up better numbers than he did during his Pro Bowl season of a year ago but doing so much more consistently, efficiently, and dominantly.
It’s hard to find a game in which he hasn’t made a big play, especially considering the fact that he’s had a sack in all but three games, and his two interceptions have come, one each, in two of the games in which he failed to register a sack.
Last week’s game was not just another sack game, but also another forced fumble. He now has 14 sacks on the season and seven forced fumbles, to go along with four fumble recoveries, and he got one of each, all on one play, against the New York Jets.
But he also had seven pressures in total, and four defensive stops, playing consistently throughout the game, despite the fact that team lost, and that is why, once again, he was able to earn himself a spot on Pro Football Focus’ Team of the Week for Week 16.
At this point, it feels as though he has been on this weekly list more often than not, and it will be interesting to see whom they ultimately choose as their Defensive Player of the Year, though they have still been steadily pushing for Aaron Donald of the Los Angeles Rams.
“The league’s highest-graded edge defender continued his strong play”, the article reads, “as he picked up six pressures (one sack, two hits, three hurries) on just 26 rushes. He also got in there with a strip-sack while adding four other defensive stops”.
Unfortunately, a great game from an edge rusher isn’t always enough to afford a team a victory. Even a great game from your franchise quarterback doesn’t always get the job done—usually when the other team also has a franchise quarterback.
It’s hard not to start envisioning, however, what this team will look like with Ben Roethlisberger back next year. How many parts will be different, though? Bud Dupree? Javon Hargrave? And it’s not as though they’ll have much cap space to add to the mix.