Peanut butter and jelly. Batman and Robin. The Pittsburgh Pirates and (Oneil Cruz aside) crushing disappointment. All things that go together so well. You can add T.J. Watt and Cam Heyward to that list and that’s what PFF did in ranking their top defensive duos Thursday morning.
Author Kambui Bomani had this to say about the pairing:
“Watt finished with a top-five 2021 WAR mark for edge rushers, while Heyward trailed only Aaron Donald for the best interior defensive linemen WAR figure. The two feed off one another en route to tons of quarterback pressure — including a combined 34 sacks, 24 hits and 70 hurries in 2021.”
We’re trending into football analytics territory, not everyone’s favorite topic, I know, but PFF has created a baseball-like WAR (Wins Above Replacement) system for the NFL. Watt finished last year with a 0.41 WAR and Heyward right behind at 0.40 WAR. A different value than baseball where an elite WAR can be 5+, but I assume those are top-of-the-line numbers for any non-QB in the NFL.
But you don’t need any fancy numbers to know how good the two have been individually and collectively. They’re two of the best at their position and are pillars of the Steelers’ defense as players, leaders, and men. Since Watt entered the league in 2017, the two have combined for a whopping 115 sacks.
Sometimes, they help the other get to the quarterback. A great example came in the Week 1 opener last year. Heyward beats his block, collapses the pocket, flushes Josh Allen to his left, and Watt storms in backside for the strip-sack fumble. In the second clip, Watt’s edge pressure forces Allen to climb the pocket and into Heyward’s arms.
TJ Watt, Cam Heyward helping each other out Sunday. 1st clip, Heyward's interior pressure flushes Allen, Watt chases from behind for the FF. Second clip, Watt's edge pressure forces Allen to step up and into Heyward. #Steelers pic.twitter.com/SulhoicFbb
— Alex Kozora (@Alex_Kozora) September 19, 2021
They’re supportive of each other even when they’re not on the field at the same time. Watt counted up Heyward’s ten sacks when he reached double-digits in the final game of the regular season, the same day Watt tied Michael Strahan’s single-season mark.
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
Watt is on a Hall of Fame track while Heyward is making a late-career surge into Canton, though his odds still seem long. But for the here and now, you won’t find a better defensive pairing than those two and both should again put up big numbers in 2022. Other defensive duos listed included the Raiders’ Maxx Crosby and Chandler Jones, the Bills’ Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer, the Chargers’ Khalil Mack and Joey Bosa, and the Ravens’ Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters.