Film Room: T.J. Watt Meets Joe Thomas

The first regular season game of Pittsburgh Steelers rookie T.J. Watt’s career was, I thought, a momentous occasion for him and for the franchise, in an obvious understatement. Their third outside linebacker drafted in the first round over a five-year span, much of the team’s future could be built on his shoulders.

It is noteworthy that he was tasked with going up against a future Hall of Famer in Joe Thomas of the Cleveland Browns for his first NFL action as well, so I wanted to focus my attention on his battles with the left tackle in particular.

The first play I want to look at comes early in the game. Facing a third and 11, this was an obvious pass-rushing situation. This round, however, was decisively won by the veteran, as he stoned the rookie and brought him to his knees. The All-22 (not included here) does show that Watt actually tossed him to the ground at the end of the play, but the throw was long gone by then.

Shortly after that, the Badger tried a less direct approach, this time dipping the shoulder and attempting to get up the arc around Thomas. He did actually accomplish that, but he was unable to keep his feet and spilled to the floor beneath the quarterback.

As you continue to watch him, you begin to understand why Alejandro Villanueva said that he was annoying to go up against. Watt just keeps working and attempting to win with different moves. On third early snap of the second quarter, he first gets stoned to the outside before trying to swim inside, even starting to win the angle, but the throw was off and he was picked up by the left guard as well.

Yet on the very next play he recorded his first pressure of the game—of his career—lining up wide from a nine-tech spot and using his acceleration and inside arm to dip under Thomas and get up the arc to pressure DeShone Kizer, who was able to step up into the pocket and make the throw.

Watt wasn’t done taking the veteran left tackle to the ground, either, as early in the second half he looked like a wrestler tossing him over his hip. It’s hard to distinguish exactly what happened here, but the end result was a 21-yard passing play, so that wasn’t good.

By this point, Watt had shown the veteran so many different things that it no doubt played into his favor when Kizer began to flush out through the near-side B Gap. He was able to hit a spin move back up the field that resulted in him recording the first sack of his career.

He obviously has work to do as a pass-rusher, but he also clearly has a lot to work with, and Watt was able to generally hold his own working against one of the best in the game. As long as he continues to get better, he can really be something.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi
Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.
  • falconsaftey43

    Off to a really encouraging start. He seems to have a good feel for pass rushing, doesn’t take himself out of the play, and constantly working towards the QB if he is initially stopped.

  • ciscoNoDrink

    The few times I specifically watched Watt vs Thomas, Watt was getting mauled. I was surprised he had two sacks based off of the way the game started but persistence wins eventually.

  • pkeats86

    There is no way you can come away from the first game anything but encouraged with his play. I seen a few great plays against the run, too. I hope at some point this season we will actually get to see a front seven of Heyward, Hargraves, Tuitt, Watt, Williams, Shazier, and Dupree. That sounds truly scary. So much strength and athleticism. But, I won’t hold my breath on that front.

    Watt should get some opportunities against lesser competition this week against Minnesota. That is, unless you were buying Gruden’s constant praising of Minnesota’s offensive line play on Monday Night instead of your own eyes.

  • pkeats86

    That is something that you can see seperates him from Jarvis. I hated watching Jarvis get stopped and then just play patty cake with the lineman until the ball was released.

  • michael young

    Kid starts one year at OLB at Wisconsin and then steps into the pros and looks as polished as any rookie I have seen coming in. He is either the most physically gifted freak athlete, the hardest working rookie of all-time or both. Either way, I’m glad we have him. Now if we could just get Bud up to speed we will be fine. Side note: Chick played really well in the last game too. If he can keep it going we might finally have a solid OLB core. It’s been a while.

  • Brenton deed

    Even Greg Lloyd would get mauled by good LTs (Boselli comes to mind) but like Watt did on this game he would eventually draw blood. The only OLBs I recall consistently intimidating good LTs were Deebo and L T

  • falconsaftey43

    Yeah, really is a big difference. There aren’t many guys that can just straight beat OTs consistently (von Miller with his speed can, and Harrison used to be able to with his dip and rip). Watt’s not that guy, he is just smart and keeps working. His second sack was actually my favorite play of his. Ripped past the TE, swims over the RB to apply pressure, Kizer scrambles away, Watt circles back and gets him from behind. Great play to get the initial pressure and hustle to finish it off.

  • MoreRingsThanYourTeam

    It would be nice if we could achieve a feat that hasn’t even been sniffed in the recent years by the Steelers. A defensive rookie of the year? I’ll take it. I don’t expect Watt to have two sacks every game, but I wouldn’t bet against him either! He’s a cerebral player who strives every day to get better. #turndownforwatt

  • treeher

    I’d love to hear what Joe Thomas has to say about him.

  • NinjaMountie

    LOL…if OT didn’t win the vast majority of the battles the season sack record would be in the 100s.

  • falconsaftey43

    He certainly has a chance at it. He’ll have the playing time, is on a high profile team, and is off to a great start. Most sacks, INTs and 3rd in tackles among rookies.

  • Mr. Goodkat

    Can’t teach motor

  • Nolrog

    In that second gif, it looks like Thomas got away with an hold.

  • Michael James

    If he stays healthy (fingers crossed), he’s going to be a pro bowler next year.

  • Matt

    Really happy the front office went out and drafted a high character guy thats easy to root for and has a really high ceiling. Also happy the coaching staff threw him right in the fire. Clearly working his butt off and will continue to get better.

    I think as he gets bigger and gets more reps he is going to be unstoppable.

  • will

    Bud who?

  • Shannon Stephenson

    I will not lie when I say I was not a fan of Watt coming out of college but he sure has changed that in a short amount of time.

  • Early reports are positive.More importantly, he passes the eye test. We all know he has leaps and bounds to grow professionally, but you have to love what he’s done since being drafted.

    To TJ Watt, stay humble, keep your head down, and keep grinding away!

  • RickM

    A great debut with all sorts of potential going forward.

  • SkoolHouseRoxx

    He showed well. I’m glad he’s using everything available to him instead of the same move over and over. The excellent motor also exemplifies who Watt is as a player. #noplaysoff

  • Michael Conrad

    I like the way he turns the corner on the tackle. I like how he does not get locked into chicken fighting. I like the ducking under. His first game against a good tackle and he will get better.

  • Douglas Andrews

    Man it was nice to see an OLB with an array of pass rushing moves. TJ gonna be a good one!

  • AndyR34

    Really??? An OT holding? Say it ain’t so! I think Thomas held Deebo on virtually every passing play…back in the day!

  • Dorian James

    No one’s going to like me saying this but this is what separates him from Bud Dupree as well

  • D.j. Hoy

    Haha, yeah he does. My friend at my house was all pumped for TJ (I am too), but I told him to temper expectations since he’s going against Joe Thomas in his first game. His relentlessness and athleticism really paid off.

  • pkeats86

    I was encouraged by his growth at the end of last year. That being said, I know where you are coming from.

  • Kevin78

    I think Thomas let up before Watt went to the ground, which is why it wasn’t called.

  • nutty32

    Great stuff, better than the bland stuff Tunch does in his segment on the flagship site.

  • nutty32

    Pass rushers are like terrorist & the OLine Home Land Security. Terrorist only have to be right once to ruin your day; heads roll if they’re right twice.

  • Joseph Shaw

    Some of it might rub off.

  • MC

    The biggest difference I see from him and our other olbs (recent past included) is his motor and attempting to counter. With Jarvis and Bud when they get stoned the first time there is basically no hope for them (hopefully Bud’s offseason training has corrected this) but with Watt he keeps rushing. Great trait to see, with his long arms, athleticism and motor combined, he should be putting up monster numbers eventually in his career.

  • MC

    Youre right though. I’ve watched Bud get run up the arc a lot. Watt showed good awareness by seeing he’s past the QB and stopping to spin inwards. His first sack is one that I’ve haven’t seen Bud make yet. Hopefully the off season training with the pass rush specialist has given bud some moves in his arsenal cause if he puts it together, we have our next Harrison/Woodley.

  • Dorian James


  • Rusted Out

    I think it’s a bit unfair that you lump Jarvis and Bud together. I agree for the most part that Bud still doesn’t have what you would call a full arsenal of pass rush moves, but Jarvis was just a turd. At this pace, TJ will surpass Jarvis’ career sack and INT numbers in two more games. lol

  • Rusted Out

    Thank you TJ Watt! Thank you for getting the best of Joe Thomas, and thank you for pushing that first round bust Jarvis Jones further from memories. Please continue to silence the clowns who were clamoring for any other pass rusher in the draft.

  • Rusted Out

    Cmon Ninja! There are like +/- 65 defensive snaps in a game? 65 snaps x 16 games = 1,040 snaps. So if Watt doesn’t get at least 521 sacks in a season he was totally dominated by those LT’s. He only has 2 sacks in one game? Looks like another first round OLB bust.

  • MC

    oh Bud is a faaaar superior player than Jarvis in all aspects however the only similarities I see between them is the lack of pass rush moves and counter moves. One of the best articles I saw in the off season was Bud working with the pass rush specialist because I think that’s where he needs improving most. Jarvis had no moves AND no athleticism so he had no chance.

  • Steve

    Joe Thomas has to be pissed after Watt is named the Rookie player of the week.