T.J. Watt Flashes Pass-Rush Potential In Division Clincher

It might not have seemed like it until at the very end of the game, but Pittsburgh Steelers rookie starting outside linebacker T.J. Watt is coming off arguably his best game of the season as a pass rusher. It certainly helps that he capped off the night with a walk-off strip sack in chase-down fashion, but it was so much more than that.

While I plan to have a more nuanced discussion about this topic in a film study later on in the week, I just wanted to briefly talk about this point, especially in consideration of those who may be finding themselves disappointed in his productivity in this area, in spite of the fact that he is asked to drop into coverage quite a bit.

Working against second-year left tackle Ronnie Stanley, who was a top-10 pick in last year’s draft, the Steelers’ own first-round pick more than held his own, and it wasn’t just against the pass. While the run defense overall was pretty terrible, not much of it was on Watt, who recorded two run stops, including a loss of four yards.

But it was his pass rush that was the shining moment for him. While the Steelers refused to characterize J.J. Watt’s younger brother was ‘raw’ despite having fewer than two full seasons’ worth of experience at the position, it is clear that he has still been learning, though at an accelerated pace, and Sunday’s game was something of a positive report card revealing his progress.

His one sack was impressive and important, showing incredible closing speed as well as the savvy of knowing to extend his arm to reach for the football to jar it loose, but that was far from his only win on the night.

And it might be worth noting, by the way, that that particular rush came from the left side, where he has worked before earlier in the season, but the bulk of his playing time has of course come from the right side.

But he had several other hurries working against Stanley at left tackle, including a hit or two on Joe Flacco, and one that forced an incomplete pass on third down. This sort of display of consistent success on the pass rush is exactly what the Steelers need.

And exactly what they have been looking for in the draft in recent years. Pittsburgh has used three of their first-round draft picks since 2013 looking for their next great pass rusher, and Watt is by far the most likely candidate out of the three, if he continues to progress as he has.

The young man can have a very bright future ahead of him. He already has the second-most sacks by a rookie in team history with six, trailing only Kendrell Bell’s nine, a feat that linebacker never came close to repeating. But I sense that Watt will not regress. He should be the next outside linebacker to record double-digit sacks in a season—plus a couple of interceptions to boot.

About the Author

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

    Meanwhile, has anyone seen Bud Dupree ?

    Seriously, Dupree had a bout as much influence on that game as I did wearing my lucky Joe Greene jersey.

    Time to go after another OLB in the draft.

  • DirtDawg1964

    He’s the real deal. Tuitt, Heyward, Hargrave, Watt and Shazier are the stalwarts on defence (one reason why the Shazier injury is devastating – but as the team has been parroting, were worried about the man, not the player). Haden would be here too, just not sure if he’s a long term keeper for the team.

    Williams is a steady presence. A thumper in the run game, okay elsewhere.

    I think Hilton, Burns, Davis are in the category of “high potential”. Hilton has been the most consistent for sure but Burns and Davis flash signs. I know not everyone is high on those two, but there’s enough talent there to hope for more.

    I put Dupree and Mitchell in my “meh” category. Not sold on either. I get why some think there’s more there than meets the eye, but I’m not convinced they are long term keepers.

    The rest are just guys. Or Gods waiting to retire (Deebo).

  • Lil Smitty

    I am wondering if they will have TJ follow around Gronk. He is fast and strong enough to compete and run with him.
    They could also have him do that on some downs and blitz on other downs to keep Brady off balance.

  • will

    Much to the chagrin of Chris Collinsworth.

  • Charles Mullins

    He has violent hands….They caught it twice in the game with good angles. One he double chopped the tackles arms down and another he was trying to punch the ball out. I though he was going to get an unnecessary roughness on the second. Hopefully he is more durable than his brother because he is looking special.

  • Charles Mullins

    Don’t sleep on JH. Every time someone has its been a mistake…Second though… keep doubting him and feel free to go do it on his Instagram…..

  • Charles Mullins

    That would be interesting. I dont think he plays man to man. Typically spot drops but body to body he would be a great choice.

  • thomas hmmmm

    Dupree was good in the game versus CIncy. He had one sack but should have had two. The sack he did get was towards the end of the 4th quarter. The sack he didn’t get I understand why he let up. Which is because he thought the QB had thrown it and didn’t want to get a penalty for roughing the passer.
    Has Bub been consistent? I would say no. Has he been terrible? I would say no.
    Everyone wants to be critical of Bud and sing Watts praises this game because Watt had a good game. But last game no one sang praises for Bud and criticize Watt when Bud had a good game and Watt didn’t.

  • jconeoone C

    Watt leads Dupree in tackles, sacks, assisted tackles, int, forced fumbles, and passes defended. Literally everything and Dupree is in his 3rd year. He is not terrible but there’s a reason why people are harder on Dupree vs Watt

  • Michael James

    You realize that Dupree only got the sack because Dalton held the ball for 7 seconds? It was the definition of a coverage sack. Dupree was easily beaten by the OT on this play, but no OT can keep an NFL pass-rusher at bay for 7 long seconds.
    It’s the same with all of Dupree’s sacks or pressures: They’re either unblocked, due to scheme or simply coverage/hustle sacks. He can’t beat an OT for the life of him.
    Watt on the other hand is no star pass-rusher yet, but at least he creates some pressure via beating actual OTs. Last game alone he constantly beat his opponent, something Dupree has never done.
    It’s not even that I don’t like Dupree. His first two years I was his biggest fan/defender, but after this season I can’t defend him anymore.

  • Ray Istenes

    Only thing with Mitchell is we don’t have a good backup currently on the roster. Golden and Wilcox are not the answer (guess that can be addressed during the 2018 draft)

  • Ray Istenes

    I was wonder about that.

    Another thought is Brian Allen due to his size (like the Steelers did with Cortez Allen 5-6 years ago when he was a rookie).

  • Rocksolid20

    Listening to Collinsworth makes me want to puke .

  • FATCAT716

    That’s not a bad idea

  • Conserv_58

    It would be nice if Sean Davis would pull his head out of his butt and stop making so many mental errors too. I’m hoping that Carnell was all over him about it. Then again, I’ve met Carnell and he’s not an in-your-face coach the way Joey is. Carnell is very soft spoken and laid back. He’s more cerebral than emotional.

  • Bradys_Dad

    The boy can run when need be. That big, that fast, that violent ….. “thank you Sir may I have another” (on the left side)?

  • Conserv_58

    For Bud it was a good game, but even a blind squirrel finds a nut every now and again. Bud getting one sack and almost two sacks is not a good game as far as I’m concerned, not when you look at his whole body of work during the game. Other than those two moments he’s spent that vast majority of his time getting driven up the arch and out of the play by the RT. He has zero pass rushing technique. He has yet to develop any go to pass rush move that actally works. He get’s too caught up in hand fighting, he can not get off blocks, he over runs plays and he’s terrible at navigating the scrum. Furthermore, He’s a first round pick. So given that, I expect a first round pick to be playing at a much higher level than Bud is after being with the team this long. Bud has shown zero growth over last season.

  • John Mazza

    that would be cool to see. maybe they go with Sean Davis cuz hes pretty big too. but not sure how he could handle it

  • NinjaMountie

    Great article, Matthew. I’m glad that you wrote about how well he’s doing at the position with so little experience. I’ve been one of the people that has been frustrated with how much he’s dropping back. I know that’s part of a “Steelers OLB’s” job but I just can’t help it. In all fairness, he is really good in coverage.
    I agree, he’s going to be a 10+ sack pass rusher. Maybe he’ll have a couple multi-sacks games and do it this year! Probably not. I would like to see him get a couple more, though.

  • Thomas

    I feel they should probably swap the OLB sides. Dupree has never seemed like the type who can work through double teams on the edge and make a lot of stops in the run game. Watt is better suited for that, has a more complete overall game. I feel like Dupree could benefit from the extra space to work the other side would afford him. You could also rotate Deboo and Dupree on the right too. (although Deboo would be just as good agains the run etc if you stick him on the left)

  • corduroyninja

    Is anybody still upset that we didn’t pick Reuben Foster?

  • L Garou

    Possible game saving play! Very possible.
    Watt is a champ!

  • Matthew Marczi

    With Justin Tucker? Darn right it could have been a game-saving play.

  • ryan72384

    You can just watch TJ and see that he just naturally has “it” as a passrusher. He’s violent and explosive and the guy is a very emotional fiery guy which is awesome too. I hope he can become a dominant double digit sack guy because we have officially missed on 2 out of 3 first round passrushers since 2013 starting with Jarvis and now Bud in 2015.

  • MC

    I wanna see what happens with Watt on the other side and Deebo in his usual spot. Gotta put the best players out there.

  • MC

    I too was a big supporter and thought this was the year he would break out and I was super excited. I’ve watched him a lot this season, keying in on him more than anyone else on the D and man he has disappointed. I actually want him pulled for Chickillo or Watt to be put on his side for Deebo to be brought in.

    The only sack I’ve been mildly impressed with was the one in the chiefs game which he chased down Alex Smith but even that was a blown protection and he went in untouched. They’ve tried that stunt numerous times after that but without the guard blowing the assignment he gets absolutely stone walled.

    They need to go for guys in the draft with technique because he is showing that athleticism with no instincts or technique gets you nowhere in the NFL.
    He is a liability out there. Ohhh how I miss the healthy Woodley days.

  • Brenton deed

    Bud is not a disaster but yes, he’s not what the wanted when they drafted him. I wonder what round he rates in retrospect … 4th? Jones OTOH was about a 6th!!