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T.J. Watt Sack Party, Part 5: The Steelers Stunt Spectacular

The Steelers pass rush relies heavily on stunts to generate pressure.

Seattle Seahawks v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Week 10 brought the Cincinnati Bengals to Pittsburgh for the first matchup between star rookie quarterback Joe Burrow and the Steelers pass rush, led by T.J. Watt. The Steelers sacked Burrow 4 times in a 36-10 rout, with T.J. Watt recording two sacks. Let’s get to the film.

The Bengals first drive of the second quarter the offense clicked and Burrows drove his team down the field, throwing 7 times for 76 yards, passing for a touchdown to cut the Steelers early lead to 5. Check out the blocking on the Bengals touchdown pass.

Week 10, second quarter, 10:40. T.J. Watt is the edge rusher to the right side of the screen.

The tackle is ready for Watt’s inside move, and the guard has eyes on Watt to help if Watt wins inside. The Bengals were sitting on Watt’s inside moves.

They did it consistently throughout the first half.

Week 10, first quarter, 11:12. T.J. Watt is the edge rusher to the left side of the screen.

On this play Stephon Tuitt takes the center and drives into the guard, taking up two blockers to give Watt a 1v1. The tackle is again sitting on any inside move, and even with Stephon Tuitt driving into him, the guard is still looking to help with T.J. Watt if he cuts inside.

With the Bengals looking to shut down T.J. Watt rushing inside, the Steelers stunts that they run a lot on longer yardage downs were not going to be as effective, and that would give Joe Burrow a bit more time to try and make plays.

Week 10, second quarter, 5:01. T.J. Watt is the edge rusher to the right side of the screen

The Steelers unleash their double stunt. The secondary is in the Steelers modified cover-3 look where the safeties play the middle of the field and Cam Sutton (top left corner of the screen) drops into the deep middle zone. Both Heyward and Tuitt rush to the tackles, leaving the middle of the pocket open. The Steelers love quarterbacks taking off on these plays because Terrell Edmunds (#34) is 11 yards behind the line of scrimmage on 3rd and 12, Minkah Fitzpatrick is only slightly deeper. If Burrow takes off quick, the second he crosses the line of scrimmage he will have Edmunds and Fitzpatrick coming for him.

Even though Burrow doesn’t run he steps forward, and Bud Dupree’s inside stunt has him coming right at Burrow. Burrow evades Dupree, but T.J. Watt is there to finish the play because he didn’t follow the stunt, he took advantage of a tackle and guard that were sitting on those stunts, like the guard is on this play, where he has only one hand on Tuitt and is cheating to be in position for Watt’s stunt. Compare the right guard to the left guard in how they block, The right side of the line is sitting on the stunt.

The Bengals, to this point in the game had evaded the Steelers stunts by focusing on Watt’s inside moves, and Watt still got a sack with an adlib.

That T.J. Watt sack on 3rd and 12 ended the Bengals drive, and it convinced the Bengals line to play Watt more straight up. It didn’t help.

Week 10, second quarter, 0:29. T.J. Watt is the edge rusher to the right.

With Henry Mondeaux giving Stephon Tuitt a breather, the Bengals tackle is playing Watt more evenly, getting a deeper initial drop, and is angled differently than in the clips above. T.J. Watt throws down a great inside cut and a quick sack to end the Bengals threat to score, moving the Bengals 11 yards back and well out of field goal range. There’s one thing I want to go over on the defense before we get to Watt’s rush, and that is Minkah Fitzpatrick.

Burrow is looking to his left to start the play, his first read is the slant coming from the left side of the screen, and you can see Minkah Fitzpatrick shut that route down. Take a look from the all-22 camera.

The Steelers start in a cover-2 look with both safeties deep. But at the snap Minkah Fitzpatrick charges forward, it’s cover-1 with Edmunds deep and Fitzpatrick playing a robber role. Fitzpatrick is one of the best players in that role that I have ever seen. When you see Steven Nelson stepping back into the passing lane behind his man, the switch to cover-1 from cover-2 destroyed the Bengals play design. It only needed to slow down the play though, because T.J. Watt was doing his own part to destroy the Bengals play.

The guard and tackle aren’t cheating on the inside move on this play, and without that advantage they don’t have a prayer. If previous articles in this series haven’t shown it enough, this play should convince you of the power Watt brings in every movement he makes. The right guard is able to get a lock on Watt’s left arm, but it doesn’t even alter Watt’s rush, Watt just keeps going and the guard ends up on the ground without even slowing T.J. Watt down.

While we’ve seen the quality of Watt’s speed rush and ability to bend the corner, as well as his ability to avoid chip blocks, it isn’t his most dangerous rush. T.J. Watt’s inside rush, especially in the Steelers frequent stunts, is so dangerous offenses are wise to prioritize defending the inside rush and settle for making Watt run around the arc to get to the quarterback.