Art Rooney II doesn’t say much. But when he speaks, everyone better listen.
His mission this year? Fix a broken running game, one that finished 30th in the league in 2019.
Enter Derek Watt.
There’s no doubt signing Watt had plenty to do with what he offers on special teams. Exit one highly productive player, Tyler Matakevich shipping off to Buffalo, enter another. Watt matched Matakevich’s output with 16 special teams tackles a year ago.
But this has a lot to do with the run game, too. Roosevelt Nix’s injury essentially wiped out his entire season and the team had no one else to turn too. They paid dearly for it. For the first half of the season, they were a historically poor short-yardage team, failing to convert on 3rd/4th and 1 time and time again. Relive the horror of their failures.
The Steelers are football's worst-short yardage team. They convert on 3rd and long (27%) at the same rate as they do 3rd and short (28%). Which is…wow.
— Alex Kozora (@Alex_Kozora) November 18, 2019
Things perked up a bit at the end of the season, the team was honestly just regressing up to the mean but they ended the year dead last on those downs and distances. Overall, the run game failed, unable to support two young quarterbacks clearly in over their head. It all contributed to their end-of-year collapse, dropping three straight to miss the playoffs for the second straight year.
As talented as Nix is, health hasn’t been on his side. He missed the final six games in 2016 along with losing almost all of 2019. Pittsburgh seems to be jumping at the chance of finding a more reliable option while still offering the same nastiness on special teams. Being a Watt doesn’t hurt either.
Signing him alone won’t make the run game do a 180. The line needs to be addressed in free agency or the draft – preferably, in both – James Conner must stay out of the cold tub, and there are schematic issues Shaun Sarrett struggled to address in his first year as offensive line coach.
Still, for a team with limited money and draft capital, this is a step in that direction. Rooney has put his thumb on the scale and the front office has received the message loud and clear.