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2020 Offseason Questions: Can T.J. Watt Reliably Produce Forced Fumbles?

The Pittsburgh Steelers are now into the offseason, following a year in which they had high hopes for Super Bowl success, but ultimately fell short of even reaching the postseason at 8-8. It was a tumultuous season, both on the field and within the roster, and the months to follow figure to have some drama as well, especially in light of the team’s failure to improve upon the year before.

The team made some bold moves over the course of the past year, and some areas of the roster look quite a bit different than they did a year ago, or even at the start of the regular season. Whether due to injuries or otherwise, a lot has transpired, and we’re left to wonder how much more will change prior to September.

How will Ben Roethlisberger’s rehab progress as he winds toward recovery from an elbow injury that cost him almost the entire season? What about some of the key young players, some of whom have already impressed, others still needing quite a bit of growth? Will there be changes to the coaching staff? The front office? Who will they not retain in free agency, and whom might they bring in?

These are the sorts of questions among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked, though there is rarely a concrete answer, as I’ve learned in my years of doing this.

Question: Can T.J. Watt reliably produce forced fumbles?

Over the course of the past two seasons, nobody has been more successful than T.J. Watt at forcing fumbles. He has produced 14 during that time, including eight last season, which is the most in Steelers history on official record, since forced fumbles were tracked (previously, only recovered fumbled were).

There aren’t too many players who are on record as having done that. Robert Mathis and Osi Umenyiora both did it. Leonard Little had 15 between 2002 and 2003. James Harrison had 14 in 2007 and 2008. And that’s about it, but it only goes back to 1993.

Anyway, the point is that Watt has forced a lot of fumbles over the course of the past two years, and it’s something that he actively works on. Most of them have come on strip sacks, but he has produced them in a variety of ways, studying chasedown techniques and working to punch the ball out.

So the question is this: can he do this consistently? And what would consistency look like? Perhaps an extended period of time in which he averages four and a half forced fumbles per season, I suppose. Do we agree that that is a reasonable standard, and can he reasonably be held to it? Do we believe he can produce those numbers? Mathis forced at least four fumbles for six straight years. Freeney did it in six out of seven years. Harrison did it for four years. If you exclude his injury years, J.J. Watt has done it in four out of five years.

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