Film Room: T.J. Watt Has Got It Covered

Pittsburgh Steelers rookie outside linebacker T.J. Watt is a lot of things, most of them good. One of them is simply being fun to watch. Another is being versatile on the field, being able to make an impact in all phases of the game, run, rush, and coverage. Even special teams.

And it’s that versatility to hold his own in many different roles that has helped keep him on the field throughout his rookie season—aside from the game and a half that he missed due to injury, of course. His stat line is impressive enough, after all. 28 tackles, four sacks, four passes defensed, and an interception.

He was both versatile and fun to watch against the Lions, even if he didn’t record a sack, or really much pressure. But he spent a lot of the game dropping into coverage. According to Pro Football Focus, he rushed 23 times and covered 20.

Of course, he played the run, too. Early in the game, he was able to get off the block of left tackle Brian Mihalik—who was also contacted from behind—to put himself in position to make a tackle on Ameer Abdullah for a run stop of two yards on second and eight.

On the next play, Cameron Heyward was able to sack Matthew Stafford, but many seemed to miss the fact that Watt also managed to bulrush Mihalik back into the pocket at Stafford’s feet at the same time. He even got held a bit.

On the next possession, Watt paused for play action before showing off his impressive athletic traits by turning and running with rookie tight end Michael Roberts on a corner route down the field. The outside linebacker’s underneath coverage and impressive vertical made it a challenging catch that was not made.

Late in the first half, Watt dropped into coverage again, and in underneath coverage made a swat at a ball aimed for wide receiver T.J. Jones that fell incomplete. It wasn’t the sole reason the pass didn’t connect, but even on a better-targeted ball, it would have affected the chances of a completion.

Later, in the middle of the third, Watt was rushing the passer, and hit a spin move to Mihalik’s outside shoulder that got him around the corner. The problem is that L.T. Walton was washed inside at the same time, and it left a gaping hole for an escape lane that resulted in a conversion of a third and 10.

But you’d better believe all of his work in coverage ultimately paid off. Late in the fourth, setting up to rush from an inside position, he instead dropped into a middle zone coverage and was able to get his hands on a ball to Jones on a drag route.

You can tell he wanted this one, and the truth is he could have had it. But he will get another in time. I don’t think anybody expected him to be this ready as an asset in coverage so early on in his career.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

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

  • Chad Weiss

    For a guy all the guru’s claimed was extremely raw he sure is making a lot of plays. I just can’t wait til he’s not “raw” anymore .

  • Steelgator

    off topic, but look at Hargrave abuse that center in the 2nd GIF. That move is a deadly, but it seems like he always goes to his left with the speed rush. It’s still almost impossible to prepare for combined with his bullrush, but he could make it even more lethal if he could do it both ways. The point isn’t to criticize, though, but revel in his already incredible current level of awesomeness.

  • StolenUpVotes

    We grabbed ourselves a special one

  • Jaybird

    Good stuff Matt. I was waiting for an article on Watt in coverage. He’s pretty incredible and extremely polished for a Rookie. I think Watts ability to cover is a big reason why Harrison isn’t seeing the field much.

  • Following_Christ

    For all the whiffs that the FO and Colbert have made on d-lineman in recent years (Evander “Ziggy” Hood, Jarvis Jones, etc.), it seems they’ve actually been slowly building quality depth on the line. How else can you explain having someone of Tuitt’s qualitymissing time to injury, and plugging in L.T. Walton (who has his own unique skill set) and they barely miss a beat?

    And Watt?
    He transitioned from TE to LB and played ONE YEAR in that position before Pittsburgh snagged him in the draft.
    And his play on the field displays more than just his athleticism, it shows that he’s picked up on opposing O’s tendencies, as well as displaying an instinctual (Harrison-like pick 6 in the SB against the Cardinals?) flair.
    I can only imagine (barring injuries) what Watt will be like after a year in the pros!

    If the offense can finally find its groove, and if Ben decides to stay through the 2018 season, I feel they have the firepower in both sides of the ball to add another TWO trophies to their display case!

  • Rob S.

    The funniest part about the last play you showed is the Burns probably picks it off if Watt doesn’t knock it down.

  • NinjaMountie

    I know it’s necessary but I hate seeing him drop in coverage so much and watching Dupree be ineffective rushing the passer.

  • Joeybaggadonuts

    That there is a a Manchild. If he is “raw” now, just can’t wait to see him play at medium rare.

  • Joeybaggadonuts

    You would hope as a slightly bigger & faster version of TJ, Bud would transfer the talent to production. Just proves the game isn’t played at the combine. He is still young and has flashed. We can only hope the ghost of Jarvis isn’t lingering. I guess the question arises…Would you rather have a guy with slightly less talent and a motor or a guy that has all world talent and just a bit less of a motor?

  • MC

    Completely outplaying Bud Dupree. Already has a better bull rush and spin move than him and is more effective in coverage, probably has better play recognition already also.

  • MC

    Much rather the later. Shane Ray is not the athlete Dupree is and was selected one pick after him but has been a better overall football player.