Combining for 32.5 sacks, 36 tackles for loss, 56 quarterback hits, six forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries, 16 pass breakups and one interception sure makes Pittsburgh Steelers’ star outside linebacker T.J. Watt and star defensive lineman Cameron Heyward quite the formidable duo.
While other teams have the quarterback and top pass catcher listed as their best duo by CBS Sports’ Jeff Kerr, the Steelers have Heyward and Watt highlighted as their best duo, leaning heavily into the thought that the Steelers’ defense will be the calling card for the black and gold moving forward.
Watt, of course, was named the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2021 after tying Michael Strahan’s single-season sacks record while missing two games. He was also named a Pro Bowler and First Team All-Pro, and was joined in those distinctions by Heyward, who notched 10.0 sacks in 2021, recording double-digit sacks in a season for the second time in his career.
Loved this moment captured after Cam Heyward's tenth sack of the season. TJ Watt holding up and yelling out "TEN!" on the sidelines and counting them off.
— Alex Kozora (@Alex_Kozora) January 11, 2022
The selection of Watt and Heyward as the Steelers’ duo by Kerr was an easy selection overall.
“There’s no need to explain how good of a player T.J. Watt is, but I’ll do it anyway. Watt tied Michael Strahan’s NFL record for sacks with 22.5 in 2021, and his 116 quarterback hits over the past three seasons are 37 more than any other player in the NFL. Watt led the NFL in sacks (22.5), quarterback hits (39), and fumble recoveries (three) last year,” Kerr writes. “While Watt was the Defensive Player of the Year, Heyward was a first-team All-Pro who finished with 89 tackles, 17 quarterback hits, 10 sacks and nine passes defensed. The Steelers made the playoffs thanks to what Watt and Heyward did for their defense. Based on how well these two work together, they can match that production this year.”
The duo play off of each other rather well, as Watt draws a lot of attention on the edge, leading to one-on-one matchups for Heyward inside. When Heyward starts to take over games, teams shift their attention back inside to the powerful pass rusher, leaving Watt with time and space to operate on the edge.
When it comes to dealing with the two Steelers’ stars in the trenches, it really becomes pick your poison for opposing offenses. Teams tend to gameplan to not let Watt beat them, which leads to double- and triple-teams for the star. However, that leaves Heyward mostly unaccounted for, which is a nightmare in its own right.
How long the duo can continue to dominate at this rate remains to be seen, but the Steelers are in great shape defensively having Watt and Heyward working in tandem to create havoc in opposing backfields.