T.J. Watt asserted himself as the most dominant defensive player in football last season, tying the single-season sack record, which helped him win the AP Defensive Player of the Year Award. Heading into 2022, Watt knows that the defense in Pittsburgh needs to take it up a notch if the team wants to have a successful season and match a push in the AFC as a playoff contender.
When asked about the energy and intensity that Watt as well as the rest of the defense has brought to camp thus far, Watt credited his new role as a team leader as well as the importance of making splash plays on defense as his key points to consider.
“Ya and part of it is just being in my role now and being more of a leader,” Watt responded on video per Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s Chris Adamski’s Twitter page. “Just trying to set the tone and just understand that it’s very hard to make plays. At the end of the day, we have to remember that we’re having fun and I know a lot of guys, younger guys have so much more on their plate in terms of if you are in the right spot and are doing the right thing. At the end of the day, it’s very tough to make plays, and when you make them, you have to celebrate. We just try to feed off of the crowd and as a defense, we always enjoy that.”
With Ben Roethlisberger retiring this offseason, the guard has shifted where the 18-year veteran and face of the franchise is long longer in the building. It’s safe to say that Watt has become the new face of the franchise for the Steelers, but he must take up more of a leadership role of the entire team with Ben gone to make up for that loss of leadership. Cam Heyward, Minkah Fitzpatrick, and Najee Harris have acknowledged the same thing this offseason, stating that they all must step up to make up for the loss of Ben and captain Pittsburgh into a new era.
For all intents and purposes, Pittsburgh’s defense has dominated the offense thus far in training camp, winning all seven shots sessions as they swarm to the football and make plenty of plays, as charted by our very own Alex Kozora. Watt especially has been dominant during the first few practices of training camp, being basically unblockable as well as getting his hands on multiple balls, one of which he took back to the house and another of which he managed to punt into the stands.
Watt mentioned that it is difficult for defenses to make plays in the NFL. The league favors the offensive side of the football to promote more points being scored by limiting the strike zone of defenders, the amount of hand usage down the field by defensive backs, as well as other rules in place to get the offense an advantage. This puts defenses into a difficult position to execute and keep yardage totals down and points off the board, let alone make splash plays. Watt understands this, having tied the single-season sack record last year and helped the Steelers lead the league in sacks, while the team ranked middle of the pack in creating turnovers.
While you don’t want players planning their next sack or INT celebration over executing an assignment on defense, you need the entire defense to be locked in and hungry to create splash plays in order to get the offense another possession and potentially flip the momentum of the game. Watt made that a regular occurrence last season with his dominant play, but now other members of the defense need to step up if Pittsburgh’s defense hopes to return to that top five ranking in the NFL.
Watt’s encouraging others to bring the juice and celebrate if a play is made in training camp, hoping to see it translate to the preseason and regular season. Given his track record, I would suggest the younger guys on the defensive side of the football follow his lead.