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T.J. Watt Sack Party, Part 2: The Fear Factor

Sometimes the fear of the pass rush is worse than the pass rush itself.

Houston Texans v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

In Part 1 we covered T.J. Watt’s ridiculous burst off the line of scrimmage, and how difficult he is to block because of it. Today we are going to see a few plays where players worrying about T.J. Watt cause them to make mistakes that hurt their team.

To start we are still in week 2, T.J. Watt recorded two and a half sacks in week 2, the last one in the third quarter. By this point in the game Broncos QB Jeff Driskel had had plenty of experience dealing with the Steelers pass rush, and it affected his judgement at the worst time.

Week 2, third quarter, 8:50. T.J. Watt is the edge rusher to the bottom of the screen.

T.J. Watt is actually blocked here, and he’s more concerned with getting in the way of any dump off to the running back than he is getting to the quarterback. If Driskel had stayed in the pocket and looked upfield, he would have seen this:

Steven Nelson and Joe Haden are on the same side of the field and there is some miscommunication between them. Nelson starts to follow the receiver going outside, sees Joe Haden and realizes the inside route is wide open. Nelson moves to cover that receiver while Joe Haden is reading the quarterback’s eyes and looking to jump any pass to the running back. The end result is two wide open receivers in the end zone waiting for a pass that will never come.

T.J. Watt ends up with this sack because he is able to recover and get to Driskel just before Vince Williams gets there. I don’t want to ignore Watt keeping his eyes up, seeing the back coming out and getting a hand in to disrupt the route and then jumping in the quarterback’s vision to shut down any pass to the back. It’s a typical T.J. Watt smart play, but the effect the Steelers pass rush has had on the quarterback is easy to see on this play. The Steelers got the sack, and after a 1st and goal at the Steelers 4 yard line, the Broncos would end up settling for a field goal.

Getting out of week 2 and the overmatched tackle and backup quarterback they faced in that game, we move on to week 3 and Deshaun Watson. In the 4th quarter T.J. Watt had hit Deshaun Watson multiple times, and on the first drive he hit Deshaun Watson as Watson threw an interception to Mike Hilton. The Steelers took the ball, drove 79 yards and scored a touchdown. A 2 pt conversion gave the Steelers a 28-21 lead. When the Texans got the ball back they had 75 yards to go, needing a touchdown to tie the game.

Week 3, fourth quarter, 6:24. T.J. Watt is the edge rusher to the top of the screen.

That’s not how you start a fourth quarter comeback drive. This play put Houston well behind the sticks and they would end up punting without making a first down, and would not get the ball back.

This play may look like T.J. Watt did something amazing to blow past his blocker and record this sack to put Houston out of the game, but look at a different angle.

The Texans’ right tackle is trying to get outside quickly, and he’s staying low so he doesn’t get driven into the pocket. Meanwhile the tight end #87 is supposed to help by chipping T.J. Watt. What ends up happening is the tight end pushes T.J. Watt too hard and the tackle gets outside too quickly and they end up sending Watt on a free rush to the quarterback. T.J. Watt isn’t going to let that kind of opportunity get away from him.

It’s one thing to lose to T.J. Watt, it’s another thing to psych yourself out and create opportunity for him where none should exist.