The offseason is inevitably a period of projection and speculation, which makes it the ideal time to ponder the hypotheticals that the Pittsburgh Steelers will face over the course of the next year, whether it is addressing free agency, the draft, performance on the field, or some more ephemeral topic.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: T.J. Watt will tie or surpass James Harrison’s franchise record of 16 sacks in a single season.
Explanation: With two on Sunday, T.J. Watt became just the third player in franchise history to record 15 sacks in a single season. He is tied with Mike Merriweather for second all time, and only one behind James Harrison for the franchise record. The question is whether or not he will even play against the Cleveland Browns in the finale, and how much he will play.
Head coach Mike Tomlin said that positional depth will factor into which veterans get rest. T.J. Watt is a veteran, but he is also young, and the reality is that the Steelers don’t have Bud Dupree. The team is already demanding a lot of Alex Highsmith, and the rest of the group hasn’t played much.
Olasunkanmi Adeniyi is battling back from an injury that kept him out of this past week’s game. Jayrone Elliott can be best described as a journeyman, while newcomer Cassius Marsh is in no position to log starter snaps after having only just recently been brought in.
With this in mind, it’s clear that Watt will play at least a chunk of snaps. They won’t stress him, but he will play, and the Browns are a team against which he has a history of success. He has played in seven games against Cleveland and registered 9 of his 49.5 career sacks in those games.
He didn’t have a sack in the first game this season against the Browns, however. They upgraded their offensive line in a major way since last year, bringing in Jack Conklin to play right tackle, and he has had a very good season, allowing just two sacks all year, with a better pass blocking rate of either of the Steelers’ starters.
Then there is the reality that, even assuming that he does play, there is a good chance that he doesn’t play a great deal, and he will obviously be instructed to protect himself. The Browns are fighting for their playoff lives, so they won’t be taking it easy, and a healthy Watt for the postseason is far more important than his tying or breaking some regular season franchise record.