2021 South Side Questions: Would Steelers Scheme T.J. Watt Into Sack Record If Necessary?

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2021 season is underway, and they are hoping for a better outcome in comparison to last season. After starting out 11-0, they finished the year 1-4 in the regular season, and then lost in the Wildcard Round to the Cleveland Browns, ignited by a 0-28 first quarter.

They have lost a large number of key players in the offseason, like Maurkice Pouncey, Bud Dupree, Alejandro Villanueva, David DeCastro, Mike Hilton, and Steven Nelson, but they’ve also made significant additions as the months have gone on, notably Trai Turner, Melvin Ingram, Joe Schobert, and Ahkello Witherspoon. They also added Najee Harris, Pat Freiermuth, Kendrick Green, and Dan Moore Jr., all of whom are starting.

There isn’t much left to do but to play the games at this point. Even if they play them poorly. They still have a lot to figure out, though, such as what Matt Canada’s offense is going to look like in any given week, or how the new-look secondary and offensive line is going to play.

These are the sorts of questions among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked. There is rarely a concrete answer, but this is your venue for exploring the topics we present through all their uncertainty.

Question: Would the Steelers try to ‘manufacture’ T.J. Watt into sacks to try to break the single-season sack record if it looked necessary?

When T.J. Watt broke James Harrison’s single-season sack record, the former defensive player of the year put out a video congratulating him—and also encouraging to go chase the NFL’s single-season sack record. The team record was 16. The NFL record is 22.5.

With one game left to play, Watt sits at 21.5, one away from tying the mark. The Steelers are playing the Baltimore Ravens, who have allowed a league-high 54 sacks this year, giving up a sack on 8.5% of their dropbacks. They are starting their backup quarterback, Tyler Huntley, who has taken a sack on 8.7% of his dropbacks. Watt recorded 3.5 sacks against Baltimore earlier this season.

At least one paper, it all sets up nicely for history to happen, but games aren’t played on paper, and the reality is it’s actually possible that he doesn’t get a sack in the game. But let’s say it’s the fourth quarter, the game is at least close enough one way or another that the Ravens have to keep throwing the ball.

In such a situation, would the Steelers try to creatively scheme Watt into sack-producing situations in order to try to ‘manufacture’ a couple of sacks to help him hit the record? Scheming sacks is a natural part of football, and certainly Watt is naturally a part of pressure schemes. It’s not like it would be looked at as cheating or something. But would they go out of their way to try to do everything they can to get Watt the record? And would they be more likely to do it if it became clear they wouldn’t be making the postseason, or if the game was well in-hand one way or another?

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