T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree have been lining up and attacking quarterbacks together for three seasons now. The 2019 season marked a key turning point in which both were able to mutually flourish, each posting double-digit sacks on the year and combining for 12 forced fumbles. While the former represented the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Pro Bowl, in a weaker year, Dupree may have joined him, even if as an alternate.
It was a great season not just for them individually, but also for them as a pair of complementary players, particularly within an entire defensive pass-rushing scheme, which led the NFL not just in sacks but also in pressure rate.
Dupree is now in his sixth season, slated to play under the franchise tag, Watt heading into year four, the final year before he may become the highest-paid defensive player in NFL history, even if briefly. The unfortunate reality is that it will probably be their last year together, but head coach Mike Tomlin believes it could be a momentous one.
Following Saturday’s practices, he talked about observing “a continual maturation process of themselves as individuals, but also them as a tandem”, saying that it’s fun to watch. “They challenge one another daily. They hone their fine skills during special teams periods. Some of the unofficial things that they do, the routines that they have formed is things that you see when you’re looking at a special tandem. And I know that is their intention and to be what it is we need them to be, which is special”.
The last time the Steelers had a ‘special’ tandem was when James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley were at the height of their powers around a decade or so ago, give or take a year or two depending upon your personal proclivities and standards of measure.
Dupree came into the 2019 season averaging five sacks per season over the course of his first four years, with six sacks in 2017 representing his ‘peak’. He posted 11.5 sacks a year ago, while also tripling his career forced fumble totals, recording four on the season. He also posted highs with 16 tackles for loss and 17 quarterback hits.
No matter what the future holds, the Steelers do need the tandem of Watt and Dupree to be special this year. The 2020 season marks the final year in which this particular group of players, with the vast majority of them at the peak of their powers or near it, will be together. It may be their best shot at a Super Bowl until they are on to their next franchise quarterback, however long that may take to develop.