How much can a non-quarterback be worth? It might be dangerous to try to answer that question right now…but then again, maybe these are the moments that provide that answer. The Pittsburgh Steelers just got their money’s worth from fifth-year outside linebacker T.J. Watt, who dominated the overtime slate to help Pittsburgh win tonight.
After recording a tackle for loss on the first play of the Seattle Seahawks’ opening drive of the extra period, he notched a sack on 3rd and 4 to make sure that they don’t make it a four-down situation. After the offense failed to move the ball and gave it back to Seattle, he did one better, getting a strip sack, recovered by Devin Bush, which set up the game-winning field goal by Chris Boswell two plays later.
Watt finished the game with seven tackles, including three for loss, with two sacks, two quarterback hits, a forced fumble, and three passes defensed—two batted passes and one in which he hit Geno Smith’s arm as he threw.
Simply put, he was dominant, and this is the sort of performance the Steelers understood Watt is capable of—because he’s done it before—when they decided to pay him $28 million per season, making him the highest-paid defensive player in NFL history, and breaking their precedent in guaranteeing the first three years of his contract.
Pittsburgh is not averse to paying its players, often making several players the highest-paid at their respective positions, but topping the market, and actually adapting their pay structures by guaranteeing money beyond the first season for a non-quarterback, was unprecedented.
It’s nights like this that make it look smart. Because when he’s healthy, he is a guarantee on the field. He now has seven sacks in five games played (missing one due to a groin injury), which is one behind the league lead of the Cleveland Browns’ Myles Garrett. He was already the reigning sack leader a year ago with a career-high 15 last year.
And this was a night that the Steelers needed that splash play. The offense wasn’t moving the ball consistently enough, and they suddenly were able to stop the Seahawks’ running game in the second half. But then overtime hit, and the defense—primarily Watt, almost on his own—took over.
And now the Steelers are 3-3, winning two straight after dropping three in a row. They’re tied with the Cleveland Browns for third place in the division, and are even in position to compete for a postseason seed, with, of course, 11 games still to play.
They now head into their bye week, hopefully with the opportunity to get some players back, get others healthy, and regroup, ready to play cleaner football. The next time they take the field, it will be in Cleveland, on Halloween. Hopefully Watt will be as scary then as he was tonight.