The Pittsburgh Steelers scraped out a victory Monday night against the Chicago Bears by a score of 29-26. For most of the game, the Steelers defense had their way with rookie Bears QB Justin Fields and the Bears offense, holding them to only three points in the first half and limiting big plays on the ground as well as through the air. However, Chicago came out to play in the second half, overcoming a 20-6 deficit to take the lead 27-26 with less than two minutes to play. However, Pittsburgh would put together a drive to get the game-winning field goal with 30 seconds left on the clock to take the lead, putting the pressure on the defense to seal the win.
T.J. Watt came to play Monday night in primetime under the lights in Heinz Field. He finished the day with seven total tackles (four solo), three TFLs, three QB hits, three sacks, and a key pass deflection with less than five seconds in the game. On this play, Chicago is driving in attempt to get into field goal range to attempt a game-winning kick. Watt aligns on this play at LDE and gets off the snap with his eyes in the backfield on QB #1 Justin Fields. Watt notices the quick pass intended for the right sideline and stales his rush and leaps into the air once Fields throws the ball, knocking it to the ground.
Here is a zoomed in view of the same play showing Watt’s anticipation of the quick pass and the ability to time his jump to deflect the ball and force the incompletion. Seeing as the ball must come out quick to keep time on the clock, Watt likely knows that he will not get home to Fields in time before the ball is thrown. Instead, he does a great job breaking up the pass, forcing Chicago’s kicker to attempt a 65-yard field goal attempt that he misses to end the game.
Along with the key pass deflection, Watt played well most of the night against the run. Here on the very first play of the game, we see him evade the block of #85 Cole Kmet, turning the corner around the edge to track down RB #32 David Montgomery from behind to hold the back to a short gain on first down. Kmet drops his head and shoots his hands on this block attempt but asking any TE to block Watt one-on-one is nearly an impossible task.
Pittsburgh utilized Watt not only on the edge, but also as a standup, off-ball linebacker in this contest. Take a look at this play later in the second quarter where Watt lines up in the box at the “Mike” backer position on second-and-short, attacking the LOS on the snap and fights through blocks to wrap up Montgomery before he can get to the line to gain, dragging him away from the yellow marker to force third down.
While Watt got in on several tackles and had that big PBU, many will gravitate to the stat sheet and recognize the three sacks he had on the night. The Chicago offensive line had no answers for Watt in this contest as a unit that has already struggled thus far in 2021, resulting in Justin Fields being the most sacked QB in the league. Pitting rookie fifth-round OT Larry Borom against All-Pro T.J. Watt is a recipe for disaster, and Watt capitalized. On Watt’s first sack of the game, we watch him hit the chop/slap/rip combo against Borom on the right side, attempting to get the corner. Fields scrambles after avoiding the sack attempt by #95 Chris Wormley, but Watt chases Fields down from behind.
Here is an end zone view of the same play. Notice how Watt comes down hard with his right arm to chop down the hands of Borom, then slaps his outside shoulder with his left hand to get the corner and hits Borom’s hands away again as he works his way to Fields who is on the run. Watt start to stumble when coming off the block but manages to keep his balance as he takes down Fields for the sack.
On Watt’s second sack of the night, we watch Watt come off free at the top of the screen on the play action rollout boot leg where Fields fakes the handoff of David Montgomery and then attempts to rollout to his right. The offensive line leaves Watt unblocked on the play, and once Fields turns around after the fake, Watt is right in his face to wrap him up and take him down for a big loss on second down.
Watt’s third and final sack comes on this 3rd-and-5 play where Watt hits an inside slap move on Borom as the RT oversets, leaving the inside open to the counter rush. Watt squares up in the hole as Fields starts to step up feeling interior pressure from Wormley, looking to scramble but is surrounded by both Watt and #97 Cam Heyward. Watt is the man who wraps up Fields’ legs and shoestring tackles him to the ground to force the punt team to come on the field for Chicago.
Alex Kozora of Steelers Depot recently posted a Terrible Take on the Terrible Podcast prior to Monday night’s game stating that Watt deserves to be in contention for the Defensive Player of the Year Award, but the favorite should be Cleveland Browns DE Myles Garrett. Before the game, Garrett had a clear lead in the sack department on Watt, having 12 to his name so far this season in nine games played. However, after Watt’s stellar performance Monday night, his sack total now stands at 11.5 in only in seven games played, having missed the Bengals game Week 3 due to a groin issue that he left the Raiders game with early the week prior and had his bye week in Week 7.
Combine the fact that Garrett still has his bye coming up along with Watt having the edge in forced fumbles (three-to-zero) as well as pass breakups (four-to-one) on Garrett, Watt has a strong case to be in contention, if not the frontrunner, for DPOY. His absence was felt heavily in the Bengals game earlier this season and he has come in the clutch now twice in prime time, recording two sacks against the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday Night Football and three sacks Monday night against the Bears. Seeing as DPOY tends to be more of a national media award, Watt having his biggest performances on the biggest stages when Pittsburgh needs him most only helps his chances of securing the award for the first time.
What are your thoughts on T.J. Watt’s performance against the Chicago Bears? Do you think his performance directly played into Pittsburgh holding off the Bears from completing the comeback? Does Watt have a case to be the frontrunner for the Defensive Player of the Year Award this season over the likes of Myles Garrett and Trevon Diggs? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below and thanks again for reading!