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How much does T.J. Watt determine the Steelers defensive results?

Breaking down the numbers of when T.J. Watt is not available versus when he plays.

NFL: OCT 31 Steelers at Browns Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Steelers defense turned in another outstanding performance in Week 8 against the Cleveland Browns, holding their opponents to 10 points for the game. One player who stands out on almost a weekly basis is the Steelers two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year finalist T.J. Watt. As most in the NFL knows, T.J. Watt is a game-changing player and can wreak havoc on opposing teams offenses. So how much has Watt’s availability influenced the Steelers results on defense in 2021?

On Thursday morning’s Steelers Stat Geek podcast, one of many podcasts on the BTSC podcast network, I laid out the numbers of when T.J. Watt is available for the Steelers versus when he is forced to stay on the sidelines. I did not break it down to specific plays were Watt was on the field, only when he was unavailable due to injury. For example, T.J. Watt played 51 of the Steelers 59 defensive snaps against the Browns. Rather than looking at the eight snaps Watt was not on the field, the entire game is just viewed as one where T.J. Watt was available.

So far in 2021, T.J. Watt has been available the entire game for the Steelers in five of their seven contests. One game, the Steelers Week 3 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, Watt was inactive due to injury along with fellow outside linebacker Alex Highsmith. The one game which comes in question is the Steelers Week 2 loss to the Las Vegas Raiders were Watt exited the game in the second quarter. For this exercise, the three stats I broke down I divided in this game to when T.J. Watt was available versus after he exited the game and did not return.

When it comes to determining the average of the stats I looked at, I rounded it off T.J. Watt’s playing time to him leaving halfway through the second quarter. In doing so, Watt has played in 5 and 3/8 game for the season while he was out due to injury for 1 and 5/8 games.

After determining the time to figure out how the defense works with or without Watt, I chose three statistics I thought might be greatly influenced by him being in the game. I didn’t know how these would turn out when I did it, but I’m not surprised with the results that I saw. The three statistics were points surrendered, sacks, and plays given up of 20 or more yards.

Before breaking down the individual numbers, I do want to say that the only loss the Steelers have this season where T.J. Watt played the entire game was in Week 4 in Green Bay against the Packers who now lead the NFC at 7–1. Additionally, I feel Watt was not 100% in the game as it definitely stands out as an anomaly compared to his results in other weeks in 2021.

In the 5 and 3/8 games were T.J. Watt was available, the Steelers have surrendered 98 points, achieved 18 sacks, and surrendered 21 plays of 20 yards or more. When taking these numbers as an average per game they are as follows:

Points/game: 18.2 points
Sacks/game: 3.35 sacks
20+ yard plays/game: 3.91 plays

In the 1 and 5/8 games in which T.J. Watt was not available, the Steelers have surrendered 44 points, achieved one sack, and giving up seven plays of 20 yards or more. When taking these numbers as an average per game they are as follows:

Points/game: 27.1 points
Sacks/game: 0.615 sacks
20+ yard plays/game: 4.31 plays

As you can see, when T.J. Watt is in the lineup, the Steelers give up 8.9 points less per game, have more than 2.7 sacks per game, and give up 0.4 less plays of 20 yards or more yards per game.

As stated before, the numbers from the game against the Green Bay Packers are included with those in which Watt was available although he did not seem to be his typical self. These numbers really skew the results as the Steelers gave up 27 points, the most of any game, only achieved three sacks, and gave up six plays of 20 yards or more which was the most in any game this season. If this game was simply taken out of consideration, the discrepancy would be much larger with the averages being 16.2 points per game, 3.42 sacks achieved, and 3.42 plays of 20 or more yards.

Looking at the numbers, if the Steelers can keep T.J. Watt healthy and producing throughout 2021, the defense will continue to dominate and keep the Steelers in games nearly every week. Not only has T.J. Watt proven he is the most valuable player on the Steelers, he should continue to be considered for the NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

To listen to the entire breakdown of the numbers with T.J. Watt as well as looking at the Steelers matchup against the Chicago Bears, check out the latest episode of the Steelers Stat Geek podcast below: