Fan perception of players can change directions faster than a roller coaster at Kennywood. Just take JuJu Smith-Schuster. At the beginning of the 2019 season JuJu was coming off a 1426 yard, 111 reception, 7 touchdown season, and was the Steelers team MVP. Then the franchise quarterback got injured, the Steelers offense changed philosophy, Smith-Schuster experienced the toughest matchups of his career and he battled injuries of his own. Even with all the outside factors, Steelers fans would not give the USC alum a break.
So this got me thinking, what would be the bare minimum stats that Steelers star players achieved before the fan base turned on them.
In this first addition we’re going to dive into a player many fans thought would take home the 2019 defensive player of the year award:
Obviously for an outside linebacker, sacks are king. Watt could only put up 30 total tackles, 1 forced fumble, and no picks. But Steelers fans would still love T.J. all the same if he put up a dozen sacks on top of everything.
Even if the youngest Watt brother had just 8 sacks I don't think Steelers fans would turn their backs on T.J. very easily. Now if Watt only put up 6 sacks, I think fan perception would likely start to change. Smart fans, however, would realize T.J. would still have 40.5 sacks in hist first 4 seasons and he would likely still get a pass.
Granted, how these sack, or lack thereof, came about would mean a lot as context is key. If T.J. is drawing a lot of double and triple teams and it is allowing others to get just as many, of not more, sacks than last season it could go a long way for the fanbase who recognizes the effort.
T.J. Watt also found a new forté of punching out the football, forcing 6 fumbles in 2018, and 8 in 2019. I think the only way fans don't notice this level of output is either if T.J. doesn't force any or if Watt forces less than 3 fumbles and the rest of the defense doesn't pick up that slack.
All things considered, I believe the lowest possible stat line, that T.J. Watt could have before the fans base turned on him would look like the following:
45 Tackles, 7 Sacks, 1 Forced Fumble, 5 TFLs, and 1 Pass defensed
T.J. will have a long leash if he were to take a step back in 2020. His dominant three-year stretch has warranted it. However, no player can hide from an angry Steelers Nation.
What do you think? What stat line do you expect from T.J. in 2020 and what stat line would you say is his absolute bottom before you thought differently of the player? Let us know in the comments below!