While the offense appears to be trending backward, the defense has remained stout for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Despite two consecutive defeats, the unit has held five consecutive opponents to 17 points or fewer. Prior to last week, they had been undefeated this season in such games. Now even that is not good enough.
And it’s not as though they are simply keeping teams off the board. They are making splashes, too. And nobody has created as much splash this season as T.J. Watt, the Steelers’ leading candidate for Defensive Player of the Year in 2019, and perhaps the strongest candidate altogether.
Watt registered another five tackles on the day, notching two quarterback hits, plus a strip sack, recovering the fumble himself. He now has 14 sacks on the season, with seven forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries.
Watt’s seven forced fumbles now ranks first outright in the NFL, and also ties the franchise record for the most fumbles forced in a single season with James Harrison, who accomplished that in consecutive seasons in 2008 and 2009. Watt also had six forced fumbles in 2018, so if he is able to get another one next week, he can tie Harrison for the most forced fumbles over a two-year span in team history.
As of right now, Watt ranked fourth in the NFL in sacks with 14. Shaquil Barrett currently is out in front with 16.5, which is more than any Steeler has had in a single season. Chandler Jones has 15, while Cameron Jordan is now up to 14.5 after notching another today.
Barrett also has more tackles for loss, and they are nearly even in quarterback hits, but Watt just broke the tie for forced fumbles, has two interceptions to his one, and has three more fumble recoveries. There is also Stephon Gilmore, the cornerback, to consider.
If you weigh in the timing and timeliness of the plays made, however, then it would be very hard to argue against Watt as the strongest candidate for Defensive Player of the Year. He has consistently been coming up big, in big moments, for a team that has absolutely been dependent upon its defense, which isn’t the case for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the New Orleans Saints, the Arizona Cardinals, the New England Patriots, or Danielle Hunter’s Minnesota Vikings.
The race for the award will be very interesting this season, with a number of worthy candidates. None of them have had all-time-great-like seasons this year, but they have all been extremely good, first-team All-Pro-lock performances. And Watt is as deserving as any of them.