As the Pittsburgh Steelers prepare to face the New Orleans Saints, both teams will look for a much-needed victory in an underwhelming season. At 2-6, the Steelers face yet another must-win game to keep any hope of turning the season around. On the bright side, the team is getting back reigning DPOY T.J. Watt, whom the defense has missed immensely. When asked about the Steelers’ defensive star, Saints’ head coach Dennis Allen had very high and detailed praise on a Wednesday conference call on the Saints’ website.
“Well, a lot of things,” Allen said when asked to describe Watt. “You know, number one is he’s highly athletic. He’s got a really good get-off. He doesn’t necessarily use his speed to power a ton, but when he does, it’s highly effective. I think he’s extremely intelligent and extremely instinctive and so he just has a way of knowing where the ball is and he finds the ball. And generally when he gets around the ball, he’s affecting it in some way; a sack-fumble, top down punch outs, something of that nature. He’s a turnover machine.”
There is no shortage of statistics to showcase how much this team missed Watt. For starters, the Steelers are now 1-8 without him playing since he was drafted in 2017. This season, the defense had seven sacks in Week 1 against the Cincinnati Bengals with Watt playing, and have only gotten eight sacks in the seven games since.
As Allen delved into, Watt perfected using the right mix of his athleticism and football IQ. As Allen also stated, Watt is indeed a turnover machine. One needs to look no further than his last game in Week 1, where he showcased his athleticism in an impressive interception on reigning AFC champion Joe Burrow. Watt’s last game before that also featured a fumble recovery touchdown against the Kansas City Chiefs in the Wild Card game.
The Steelers rank 24th in the NFL with 1.9 sacks per game, a number that is already inflated by the 7 sacks in Week 1. Further, they rank 28th in the league in ESPN’s pass rush win rate at 36%. The significance of getting Watt back cannot be understated, and the presumed improvement in pass rush will also make the struggling and injured secondary’s job easier. This will also put less pressure on the offense, a unit that has been struggling to put up points.
Having tied and nearly broken the season sack record last season, Watt is on a trajectory to be one of the best defenders in franchise history, which is telling given the Steelers’ long list of defensive Hall of Famers. Though the Steelers may not get the version of Watt they are used to seeing in his first game back from injury on Sunday, any approximation of his will help the team immensely.