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Steelers Film Room: T.J. Watt’s game is on an ascension

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T.J. Watt has truly become a star in the NFL.

NFL: New England Patriots at Pittsburgh Steelers Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

The Steelers have not had it easy recently. They have dropped four of their last five and seem to be trending down on all fronts. The costly turnovers, the defense giving up big plays in clutch situations, questionable refereeing, and more than all, the odd coaching decisions of the past few weeks.

However, one player has been a beam of brightness over the past few weeks. That man is named T.J. Watt, as he has been productive with a 28.1 pass rush win rate, which is the best in the NFL over the past 4 weeks. Watt was productive in the first half of the season, but it was mainly from the fact that he was often unblocked and running open.

Now, though, that is no longer the case. Watt holds Top 15 grades in both run defense and pass rushing ability from PFF since Week 12, and has played like a star EDGE rusher. With the amount of times he drops back, at 103 times, and that is a testament to how productive he is as a pass rusher.


Film Room

Despite being possibly the best EDGE rusher in the NFL over the past few weeks, Watt still has some warts to clean up in his game before he advances to an elite level of pass rusher. Obviously this here can be viewed as a holding call on Josh Hill, but it didn’t get called at all. Why? It really doesn’t look nearly as egregious at it could have been if Watt had completely won this battle. He does what we Defensive Linemen like to call “popping up” as he simply pops up to a standing stance out of his first burst. That is a leverage issue. It doesn’t present itself that much anymore, and he gets held because his hands fight off the set towards the edge, but Watt limits his ability to bend around the edge by doing this. It gives the blocker more surface area to turn him on, and that is why this was likely not called. If he stays down lower, he gets tackled and it should get called.

Yeah, I am not a fan of Keith Butler’s philosophy of dropping T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree back into coverage all day. Dupree is good at it, sure, but Watt is not. While he can move well, he doesn’t exactly flip his hips like you would want a good coverage LB to do. Here, he eats Alvin Kamara up as he comes out of the backfield, but as Michael Thomas comes across on the dig, his change of direction is less than stellar and it is an easy completion. Thomas also breaks the tackle, but I am not for that. Watt should be coming at Brees all day.

Will Clapp takes this jump set and fails to divert his feet towards Watt’s inside hip, which immediately gives T.J. a path around him and to Drew Brees. Clapp seemed to be in here as an extra linemen and did not have a snap the rest of the day. Watt has a really nice first step here, plays low enough to decrease the amount of space Clapp has to get hands on him, and then uses his hands to turn his body around the edge. This is a pitch perfect rep from T.J. Watt and shows how his hand usage as really increased as a whole.

Smart, disciplined, and great players do this type of stuff. In a situational game like football, you have outsmart the other team, and with a quick pass to the sideline that you know is coming, T.J. Watt makes a fantastic play here. It obviously does not get batted down, but once he saw Ramczyk settle back, he gave it a shot at it. Great teams like the Patriots have done things like this for years, and Watt is making a veteran play by doing exactly this. Do not discount how great of a play this is, because the coaches will certainly notice it.

Other than the slight pop up here, this is pass rushing perfection. Fantastic explosion off the line and then the double chop down is some mastery. Ramczyk is a fantastic RT and Watt makes him look silly here. He then rips through once Ramczyk is off balance and turns the edge. There is a slight pull here that gets him up the arc a bit too much, but regardless he forces this throw out earlier than Brees wanted it to be out. This incompletion is attributed to Watt all day, and he is why the Steelers can get off the field more than they used to.

Ramczyk in a 45 set is nearly unbeatable, but Watt sets him up by lining outside and then pivoting inside to open up his hips to the inside. This is a beautiful rep from Watt, as once the hips are opened, he makes his cut inside and spins while handfighting off Ramczyk. As I did say, this should have been a sack, but Drew Brees is rather immaculate. Regardless, I have not seen any pass rusher have the amount of success against Ryan Ramczyk this season as Watt did.

As an encore, Watt proceeded to make a fantastic play by staying low, converting his speed into power, and then running over Josh Hill. The low man wins as they say, and Fort and Watt both excel at that here. One of the better special teams plays the Steelers have had, and Watt is the mastermind behind it all.


T.J. Watt has proven to be a gigantic hit on the part of Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert. He has only gotten better as this season has gone on and shows out even against the top tackles in the game.

Watt has proven to be nothing short of an elite talent has figured out how to use his hands finally. While it had flashed before in the early season. Watt is now doing all of this on a consistent basis.

In other words, the NFL better watch out.