Study: How Does T.J. Watt Win On 3rd Down?

Recently, we reviewed Alex Highsmith’s third and fourth down pass rush plan to see what his favorite moves were and where he needs to improve heading into an important sophomore year.

Today, for context and just for data’s sake, I want to do the same for T.J. Watt. I viewed all 118 of his third and fourth-down rushes in 2020 (excluding ones where little to nothing happened like on a screen or chip by TE/RB that didn’t give Watt a chance to use a move).

Like we did with Highsmith, we’ll break things down by move, the number of attempts, the number of wins, and win percentage. I’m going to break things down further by having three tables: One of his rushes while standing up (there aren’t many), one of his rushes with his hand down, and one table with the two combined. To see if there’s a change in how he rushes hand up/hand down.

Let’s dive into the numbers. Here are the results of Watt’s third/fourth down moves while standing up.

T.J. Watt Hand-Up Rushes

Pass Rush Move Rush Attempts Rush Wins Rush Win %
Stunt (Crasher) 7 1 14.3%
Rip 5 2 40%
Bull 4 2 50%
Swim 2 1 50%
Club 1 1 100%
Speed/Dip 1 1 100%
Chop 1 0 0%
Spin 1 0 0%


Analysis: For starters, it’s surprising to see how little Watt stood up on third down and really illustrates the fact he’s become a defensive end. Just 22 times. Someone who drops into coverage much less than he used to, around 10% of the time (still more than your actual 4-3 ends, to be fair) and a guy who plays with his hand in the ground a lot.

One reason why and when he chooses to stand up might be a clue that a stunt is coming. Easier for him to be the crasher when he’s hand-up than when he’s hand-down. He stunted 31.8% of the time, almost one-third of his stand-up rushes.

Beyond that, his rip and bull were effective and made up for over 40% of his total hand-up rushes. A pretty focused plan of attack. Rip through on his outside rushes, bull rush if tackles begin to overset on speed.

Let’s look at his hand-down rushes. A lot more to evaluate here.

T.J. Watt Hand-Down Rushes

Pass Rush Move Rush Attempts Rush Wins Rush Win %
Bull 22 7 31.8%
Rip 19 7 36.8%
Swipe 12 3 25%
Swim 11 8 72.7%
Stunt (Crasher) 10 2 20%
Chop 7 0 0%
Cross Chop 5 2 40%
Speed/Dip 4 1 25%
Spin 3 1 33.3%
Club 2 0 0%
Ghost 1 1 100%


Analysis: Comparing his stunt usage hand-down to hand-up, you see a big difference. Here’s how those numbers stack up.

Stunt Rate % 

Hand-Up: 31.8% (7/22)
Hand-Down: 10.4% (10/96)

So there’s a strong tell. Hand-up means there’s a high chance of a stunt coming. Hand-down means the defense probably isn’t playing a game to that side.

To everything else. His swim move has been potent, winning nearly three-quarters of the time. But he had success with a variety of moves. His bull, his rip, his swipe, the occasional cross chop. All had a 25% or better success rate. What didn’t work was his cross chop, which went 0/7.

Here’s all his rushes together. Table of hand-up and hand-down rushes.

T.J. Watt Total Third-Down Rushes

Pass Rush Move Rush Attempts Rush Wins Rush Win %
Bull 26 9 34.6%
Rip 24 9 37.5%
Stunt(Crasher) 17 3 17.6%
Swim 13 9 69.2%
Swipe 12 3 25%
Chop 8 0 0%
Cross Chop 5 2 40%
Speed/Dip 5 2 40%
Spin 4 1 25%
Club 3 1 33.3%
Ghost 1 1 100%


Analysis: Of moves with 10+ attempts, here’s how they rank in terms of effectiveness.

Swim: 69.2%
Rip: 37.5%
Bull: 34.6%
Swipe: 25%
Stunt: 17.6%

Generally speaking, and it’s no surprise when it comes to an elite pass rusher, Watt is pretty successful at everything he does. His chop hasn’t worked, but other than that, everything else is pretty effective.

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