Even though fans are back in the stands and it’s harder to hear what an offense is communicating with 70,000 screaming people around you, T.J. Watt listens to football as much as he watches it. Watt appeared on The Pat McAfee Show Thursday and discussed how his football intelligence has evolved and how he still watches, and listens, to TV tape to gain an edge.
“The game was on last week,” Watt told McAfee. “Because I’ve done this so many times with my wife where if a quarterback will say something like ‘purple,’ my wife will go, purple. What does it mean?’ I swear. Because we listen and she’ll be like, ‘what are you doing?’ I’ll be like, ‘I’m just listening to see if I can get, this is their reminder for it’s on two this time.'”
It echoes comments Watt made back in 2020 – also to Pat McAfee – when most teams, including Pittsburgh, had no or very few fans in the stands. Meaning you could hear everything on the football field. The quarterback’s cadence, the lineman talking to each other, everything was out in the open. Watt took advantage of the circumstances and listened to TV tape in addition to the All-22, which doesn’t contain audio, to learn as much as he could about how each offense functions.
Watt shared a specific example of how listening helped him late this past season.
“One of the last games of the year. Tight end looked at the other guy, he goes, ‘you going or I’m going?’ He goes, ‘I’m going.’ I go, ‘it’s a pass. Lemme get out of the six technique and widen up at myself.'”
So could we find the play? Honestly, probably not. But in about ten minutes of narrowing down and searching (pass plays, 12 personnel, two tight ends next to each other, Watt on the field, late in the year), this one against the Ravens “fits” best. You can see Watt change his alignment pre-snap and widen out, getting cut by the running back but on his feet in time to pressure QB Tyler Huntley and help force this incompletion. The only issue is both tight ends run routes here but you get the idea – Watt’s using tape-study and on-field chatter, offenses will often tell you what’s coming if you just pay attention, to improve his game.
Being part of a football family helps learn tricks of the trade and Watt said he learned the art of listening from his older brother.
“I’m listening all the time. My first couple years I didn’t listen to anything. That was one of the things I picked up from J.J. was just sometimes you just have to listen to what they’re saying…some guys are like, ‘is it on one or two?’ Are you’re like, ‘ok, let’s go.'”
Professional athletes. They’re just like us.
Watt also said he prefers not wearing the green dot and having simple pre-snap reads and keys that allow him to play off his instincts. He briefly wore the green dot in 2019 but hasn’t in recent years.
Watt’s attention to detail is what separates him from the rest of the league. He’s a product of when elite talent meets elite work ethic meets elite intelligence. Great talent can win but it’s hard to be consistent on that alone. Combine it with a top-notch football IQ and desire to get better and you get the all-time greats. Like his older brother, Watt will be one of those guys.