The focus of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2021 sacks revolve around T.J. Watt tying Michael Strahan’s (official) single-season record. But Watt wasn’t the only one getting after the quarterback this year. The Steelers finished with 55 sacks, leading the league once again and eclipsing the 50-sack mark for the fifth straight year, tying the NFL record.
Watt dusted James Harrison for the franchise-record. But Watt and Cam Heyward, himself having an elite year, also set a franchise record. Most sacks by a Steelers’ duo in team history. Watt with 22.5, Heyward with ten, and I’ll help you with the math, a combined 32.5.
Sure, Watt’s number feels like it’s dwarfing Heyward’s. But this isn’t a Wayne/Brent Gretzky stat. Heyward’s ten sacks are nothing to scoff out, especially considering the interior position he plays.
But let’s focus on the numbers. Watt and Heyward broke a long-time record. Using Pro Football Reference’s updated data from last year, the previous record was set in 1961 by Gene “Big Daddy” Lipscomb and Lou Michaels way back in 1961 with a combined 29.5 sacks. 17.5 by Lipscomb, 12 by Michaels.
Here’s the list.
Most Sacks By Pair Of Steelers In Same Season
1. Cam Heyward/T.J. Watt – 32.5 (2021)
2. Big Daddy Lipscomb/Lou Michaels – 29.5 (1961)
3. James Harrison/LaMarr Woodley – 27.5 (2008)
4. TJ Watt/Bud Dupree – 26.0 (2019)
4. Stephon Tuitt/T.J. Watt – 26.0 (2020)
6. Kevin Greene/Greg Lloyd – 24.0 (1994)
7. Joey Porter/Jason Gildon – 23.5 (2000)
7. James Harrison/LaMarr Woodley – 23.5 (2009)
Heyward and Watt become the first duo to hit the 30 sack-mark in one season and blow past the rest of the field. It’s little surprise Watt’s name on the list so often, appearing three times. Only James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley show up more than once on here.
Pan out and look league-wide and you’ll really capture Heyward and Watt’s dominance. Since 1982, the “official” sack era, those two are just one of five pairings to have 30+ combined sacks in one season. Here’s the list.
Duos With 30+ Sacks (1982-Present)
1. Chris Doleman/Keith Milliard – 39 (1989)
2. Clyde Simmons/Reggie White – 34 (1992)
3. Lawrence Taylor/Leonard Marshall – 32.5 (1986)
3. Cam Heyward/T.J. Watt – 32.5 (2021)
5. Trace Armstrong/Jason Taylor – 31 (2000)
It’s worth noting just a year earlier in the pre-official era, the Jets’ Joe Klecko and Mark Gastineau combined for 40.5 sacks in 1981, an incredible figure. Elsewhere, the Lions’ Al Baker and John Woodcock combined for 33.5 sacks in 1978. The Bengals’ Coy Bacon and Gary Burley combined for 30 in 1978, while Dallas’ Harvey Martin and Randy White combined for 32.5 in 1977. But I did not go through the entire pre-1982 list so I don’t have complete data there.
Aside from a post-Steelers season “stats of the weird,” nothing in this article should come as especially surprising. Watt is great, Heyward is great. Watt is on track to be a Hall of Famer, Heyward has a fighting chance. But it’s good to put their dominance in perspective next to past Steelers’ greats and ones around the NFL. In 2021, they stacked up nearly as well as anyone. Ever.