Steelers OLB T.J. Watt had the game of his life Sunday afternoon against the arch-rival Baltimore Ravens in Pittsburgh. Coming off the reserve/COVID list with no practice and under-conditioned while dealing with lingering symptoms, Watt finished the Sunday game vs the Ravens with six total tackles (five solos), 3.5 sacks, three tackles for a loss, six quarterback hits and a career-high 12 quarterback pressures. That comes out to a pressure percentage of 37.5% on 32 total pass rushes according to Next Gen Stats.
Simply put, Watt’s performance was downright spectacular. He has had several impressive performances under the lights in primetime this season against the Seahawks and Bears, but Sunday’s game against the Ravens somehow set a new bar that seemed impossible to pass. As a pass rusher, Watt was dominant, defeating blocks regularly and getting QB #8 Lamar Jackson on the ground. Jackson is one of the most elusive passers in the league but watch on this rep as Watt defeats a double team by RT #65 Patrick Mekari and RG #70 Kevin Zeitler, getting off the block by Zeitler to trip up a scrambling Jackson in the backfield for the sack.
Even when he wasn’t credited with the sack, Watt still got extensive pressure on Jackson off the edge. Take, for example, this sack credited to #95 Chris Wormley where Watt comes off the edge free initially but gets picked up by the back and LG on the pull to the right. However, Watt continues his rush, working around blocks and gets in on the action as Wormley wraps up Jackson from behind for the big loss on first down.
Dave Bryan mentioned on the Terrible Podcast this past week that it would be imperative for Pittsburgh to hit Jackson early and often in this game to rattle him and make poor decisions throwing the football. While Watt was sitting at home for most of the week, he followed through on that assignment, constantly getting in Jackson’s face even when he couldn’t successfully get him on the ground. Watch on this play as LG #72 Ben Powers is slow to pick up Watt coming off the edge, laying a nice hit on Jackson who is forced to check it down to #13 Devin Duvernay who is brought down near the LOS.
FS #39 Minkah Fitzpatrick owes Watt credit for his INT of Jackson in the first quarter as you watch Watt chase down Jackson in the backfield, being left unblocked for some reason, causing Jackson to continue to drop back and commit the cardinal sin of throwing off his back foot into the end zone where Fitzpatrick jumps up for the heave by Jackson for the pick.
The Ravens ended up putting #74 Tyre Phillips in at RT later in the game, but he stood no chance against Watt either. Watch as Watt gets right into Phillips’ chest, pushing him aside like a rag doll as he crosses Phillips’ face into the pocket, forcing Jackson to escape to the right, but still manages to run Jackson down from behind on the shared sack with Wormley.
Watt gives Phillips his best Reggie White impression on this sack, using the famous hump move White destroyed offensive linemen with in the past to throw Phillips off his frame and wrap up Jackson in the backfield, refusing to let the slippery runner escape his grasp as he brings him to the ground for another sack.
Later in the fourth quarter as Baltimore is driving in attempt to tie the game, we watch Watt defeat Phillips again off the edge, this time by attacking him with speed around the corner, but then counters back by yanking Phillips across his face, giving Watt the inside track to Jackson inside the pocket as he attempts to escape, but Watt runs him down and strip sacks Jackson from behind for good measure. Phillips gets called for holding on this play, but Watt still makes the play and almost seals the game if the ball doesn’t roll out of bounds.
While Watt dominated as a pass rusher, he made a profound impact when he didn’t get home. For example, watch this play against the run where Watt gets off the chip block by Duvernay and then sheds TE #85 Eric Tomlinson to tackle the runner in the backfield for a loss on the play.
Watt also got his hands on several balls thrown near the LOS in this one, getting his hands up in passing lanes and affecting Lamar Jackson’s passes over the middle of the field. Here is a perfect example that occurs directly before Watt’s second full sack on the night as he is roaming in the box pre-snap and finds a path to the QB, getting his hands up and swats at Jackson’s pass intended for #14 Sammy Watkins, throwing off the trajectory of the ball, forcing the incomplete pass.
Watt’s impact was heavily felt on Pittsburgh’s final defensive play of the game as well, sealing the victory. The Ravens decide to go for two on the point-after attempt on this play, looking to go up one with 12 seconds left to play. Jackson snaps the ball, but Watt is left unblocked yet again coming off the edge, getting in Jackson’s face just enough with his hands up to make Jackson throw the ball side arm, just overthrowing #89 Mark Andrews in the flat at the goal line, going just past his outstretched arm and falls incomplete to insure the Pittsburgh win.
The great Dave Bryan tweeted out following the win that Steelers OLB T.J. Watt has now tied former great OLB James Harrison’s single sack record at 16 with five weeks left to blow the record out of the water barring health. His All-Pro brother, JJ Watt, shared the sentiment, tweeting:
Thanks to his showing Sunday, Steelers OLB T.J. Watt has now tied former great OLB James Harrison's single sack record at 16. 5 weeks left to blow it out. #Steelers
— Steelers Depot 🎅🎄🎁 (@Steelersdepot) December 6, 2021
Watt has missed contests this season with groin, knee, and hip injuries while also being placed on the reserve/COVID list, but still is currently two sacks ahead of Browns EDGE Myles Garrett for the league-lead.
Steelers Depot’s Alex Kozora shared the stat after the game for most sacks by a Steeler, first eight seasons.
Most sacks by a Steeler, first eight seasons.
1. TJ Watt: 65.5
2. Jason Gildon: 62.0
3. Joey Porter: 60
TJ Watt is in his FIFTH season. #Steelers
— Alex Kozora (@Alex_Kozora) December 6, 2021
Kozora further built on the historic pace Watt is on in the sack department Monday morning:
Players with more sacks than TJ Watt over the first five years of their career, NFL history:
That's it. And Watt's likely to pass Thomas and Jones by years end. Incredible. #Steelers
— Alex Kozora (@Alex_Kozora) December 6, 2021
T.J. Watt is a phenomenal player that is off to a record-setting pace despite missing several games this season. It has been debated by Steelers fans and national media alike that Watt has been robbed of the DPOY award the last two seasons, as his stats and impact on important games supported his case to deserve the award in 2019 and 2020. There is no arguing it this time around; Watt needs to be given that award this season. He is on-track to beat the single-season sack record of 22.5, needing six sacks in the next five games to tie. Throw in the fact that he has four FF, four PBUs, and 16 TFLs on top of that, Watt is getting it done multiple ways.
Awards are usually given to players on playoff teams that shine in the biggest moments. Watt has shown out on primetime several times this season, literally taking over games as a defensive player to sway the outcome of victory in Pittsburgh’s favor. Stats aside, it’s extremely difficult to come up with an argument that there has been a more valuable, impactful player on the defensive side of the football this season than what Watt has provided Pittsburgh in the moments they have needed him most. That is why they made him the highest-paid defensive player in NFL history and the defense is completely lost without him in the lineup.
The National Football League needs to do the right thing and hand T.J. Watt his trophy. Frankly, it’s long overdue.
What are your thoughts on T.J. Watt’s performance against the Ravens? Do you think he cemented his status as DPOY with the impact he had on the game? Do you think the league will give him the award, or that someone else presents a better case to win the honor? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below and thanks again for reading!