How do you stop T.J. Watt? Conventional wisdom says to get the ball out quick against top-tier pass rushers. Don’t give them that extra half-second to get home and make a play. But when quarterbacks want to hurry their throws, Watt knows how to defend that too. They don’t call him T.J. Swatt for a reason.
Speaking to reporters Wednesday via the team’s YouTube channel, Cincinnati Bengals’ QB Joe Burrow said there is no good answer to defending Watt.
“You gotta get the ball out quickly,” Burrow initially said when asked how to counter him. “But he’s probably the only guy in the league that you have to worry about when you do get the ball out quickly. Because he’s really good at reading the quarterback’s drop through the tackles and understanding when you’re trying to throw the ball quickly.”
Burrow found that out the hard way in their Week One matchup. Early in the second quarter, Burrow tried to quickly throw right side. But Watt followed his eyes the whole way, timed his jump, and picked off the pass, one of four interceptions Burrow would record on the day.
On that play, Watt opted against rushing. He came off the ball, read Burrow’s eyes/shoulders, and waited for the pass. With Watt being shorter than the tackles who block him, he’s easy for quarterbacks to miss, especially when they’re locked on the coverage. It’s a play he’s made time and time again. Since entering the league in 2017, Watt has 34 pass deflections. That’s top 75 among all NFL players, even defensive backs, and tied fifth-most among all linebackers.
“Sometimes you’re just gonna have to block him,” Burrow concluded. “It’s how the game is. But he’s one of the premier guys in the league that really takes a lot of time and effort to gameplan against.”
Facing Watt presents no simple solution or easy answer. Sitting the pocket and letting routes develop means you’re praying to the Football Gods that Watt doesn’t get home. Short dropbacks and quick throws negate his pass rush ability but runs the risk of him knocking down or picking off the football. That’s what makes the elite players elite. Ready or not, they’re going to impact the game. It’s just a matter of to what degree and with the goal of them not taking over the game. That’ll be the Burrow and the Bengals’ mission this weekend.