TJ Watt is as excited as anyone to have 5500 members of Steelers’ Nation at Heinz Field this Sunday. But without fans the first three games, and whatever future away games where fans still aren’t permitted, Watt has been taking advantage of a unique football environment.
Joining Pat McAfee on the Pat McAfee Show Friday, Watt explained the upside to playing games and preparing for opponents in the COVID era.
“It’s huge to have that crowd noise,” Watt told the show. “Don’t get me wrong as pass rusher, I would want that more than anything, Especially here in Pittsburgh. Steeler Nation, flipping the towels around and everything. Being able to get off the ball is number one as an edge rusher. But you have to look at the bright side, this is the first time I’ve been able to hear almost everything. This is the most TV copies of games that I’ve watched. I’ve watched pretty much every single game of our opponent on TV and just kind of close my eyes and listen for as much information that I could possibly get to help me and then relay it to my teammates and use it to our benefit.”
Never before has it been so easy to hear the calls and cadence of a quarterback. You can hear him and the rest of the team communicating. Linemen calling out fronts, blocks, any checks or adjustments offenses use on a weekly basis. In past years, it was hard to hear that, even with players mic’d up. Now, offenses have the challenge of self-scouting to avoid tipping off any signals to the defense. It’s clear Watt is putting in time to take advantage of that.
“Early on in my career, I wasn’t able to process everything. I wasn’t able to listen as much to snap counts to what the offensive linemen are saying. Just because I had so much going on in my mind of what I was doing on each play. But now things are slowing down so I can listen if a linemen is saying something that is referring to a pass or a run play. I can hear that and usually jump the snap count.”
Verbiage varies from team to team but often, there is a direction associated with a call. “Ringo,” for example, might indicate a call to the right. “Lucky” may do the same for the left. Those are the little things that can now be picked up on the TV tape.
The Steelers’ pass rush success has picked up where it left off. They have 15 sacks through three games. Watt’s responsible for 3.5 of those, including 2.5 of them in Week 2’s victory over the Denver Broncos. Pittsburgh is well on their way for a fourth straight 50+ sack season. If they hit that mark, they’ll be the first defense since the 80s Giants to achieve that feat. They’ll face an Eagles’ team this weekend struggling to protect their quarterback.
Watt’s answer is a testament to his film study and work ethic. Combine that with his physical talents, a quick, strong pass rusher, with great technique and hand use, and you have not only one of the NFL’s best pass rushers but one of the game’s top defenders.