They say that records are made to be broken. T.J. Watt didn’t quite break the NFL’s single-season sack record, but he did tie it with 22.5 sacks. The extra sack that he got in the playoff loss did give him the most combined regular and postseason sacks in a single year.
Given that the tied the all-time NFL record last season, it stands to reason that he led the league in sacks a year ago. But he also led the league with 15 sacks in 2020. In doing so, he became just the third player ever—after Mark Gastineau and Reggie White—to lead the NFL in sacks in consecutive seasons.
As Jack Andrade points out for NFL.com, Watt can break the record if he leads the league in sacks for a third consecutive season, and there’s no reason to think that he doesn’t have a pretty good shot at doing just that, given that he has upped his sack total every year and is putting up impressive consistency metrics.
Really, the only thing that could work against Watt is his health, yet he still churned out an NFL record while dealing with numerous minor injuries last year, which robbed him of two games and significantly limited him in others.
He has put up at least 13 sacks in each of the past four seasons, so it would be surprising if he falls far from that number, but it’s also worth keeping in mind that that 22.5 number is the aberration. He never had more than 15 prior to last season. That’s a 50 percent increase.
It’s not a coincidence—not entirely anyway—that the Steelers have led the NFL in sacks in every year since Watt has been in the NFL, five seasons running now. They’ve done so by posting 50 or more sacks each year. Should they post 50 or more sacks in 2022, they would become the first franchise to do so six consecutive seasons in NFL history.
That, of course, depends on a lot more than Watt. Cameron Heyward has been a principal contributor to those numbers over that time, along with Bud Dupree. Stephon Tuitt is another notable contributor now gone, but he’s been replaced by Larry Ogunjobi, and it’s in the hands of Alex Highsmith now on the edge opposite Watt.
Of course, with teams throwing the ball 40-50 times a game with regularity, it’s not surprising that sack totals in general have been up. That is one thing to take into consideration for anybody looking to compare historical sack totals to the present. The more pass plays there are, the more opportunities for sacks.