Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt has played just two games this season after tearing his pectoral in Week 1 of the NFL season. However, one of those two games, which took place during Week 1, was against the Cincinnati Bengals. During his press conference on Monday, Bengals head coach Zac Taylor talked about all the ways Watt affects a game ahead of the Steelers-Bengals matchup on Sunday afternoon.
“He affects every play. He’s really smart, you can just see he has tremendous awareness in just the run and the pass,” Taylor said. “Does a great job communicating to those around him, he’s somebody you always have to be aware of, he makes those behind better because they know the ball is going to come out quicker,” he continued.
Taylor is right that Watt does everything. He didn’t tally a sack last Sunday against the New Orleans Saints, but he was an asset in run defense and the extra protection on Watt helped allow fellow outside linebacker Alex Highsmith to get free for two sacks. The ball does have to come out faster with Watt in the game as well due to his ability to get to the quarterback, which opens up the possibility for more splash plays and interceptions.
In Week 1, Watt had a sack, an interception, and three tackles for a loss as well as two pass deflections. Obviously, if he can total that level of production again, the Steelers will have a much better shot to win on Sunday. He dominated Cincinnati’s prized free agent pickup La’el Collins in Week 1, but Taylor expressed confidence in the left tackle prior to Week 11.
“We’ve got a lot of confidence in him going forward against a lot of difficult matchups that he’ll have,” Taylor said about Collins.
Watt’s ability to affect a game defensively is among the best out of anybody in the NFL, hence his Defensive Player of the Year award last year. If Minkah Fitzpatrick is able to return this weekend, then the Steelers will try to replicate their Week 1 performance where Fitzpatrick had a pick-six, Highsmith had three sacks, and Watt was a factor in all facets defensively.
If that can happen, Pittsburgh has a shot at beating Cincinnati. They’ve done it once this year, and although the season hasn’t gone as planned since, they still have the talent to beat a Bengals team that might be without star wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase and have yet to win an AFC North game.