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T.J. Watt Sack Party, Part 4: Cam Heyward dominates, T.J. Watt eats

Continuing to look at the pass rushing prowess of T.J. Watt, and in this installment it focuses on the help Watt receives from players like Cam Heyward.

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

T.J. Watt is a talented and athletic pass rusher, and we’ve covered his ability and shown some of the ways he benefits from the scheme he plays in. Today we are going to look at T.J. Watt’s 7th and 8th sack plays of the 2020 season, and one specific team mate that played the major role in both sacks.

First up, the Baltimore Ravens.

Week 8, first quarter, 9:32. T.J. Watt (#90) is the edge rusher to the bottom of the screen.

Mark Andrews does a good job driving T.J. Watt back, buying time for the offense from Watt’s backside pursuit, which is always a threat. Watt gets the sack here because Lamar Jackson runs into the back of his own offensive lineman. The effort Andrews puts in to block the Steelers sack leader is a testament to how dangerous Watt is in that situation, but beyond that, and the hustle to get back in the play and tap Jackson down for the sack, there’s not much here from Watt.

To get a better read on what happened on the play, we need to look at a different angle. Watch #74 in purple, the guard to the left side of the screen.

Tyree Phillips was a rookie with a lot of promise last season, but this play shows exactly why rookie lineman are rarely good starters. You can see the play is trying to set up a pitch to running back J.K. Dobbins (#27), but Tyree Phillips gets lost as he pulls and the progression of the play stops, Phillips realizes his mistake in time to hurry forward and be the wall his quarterback runs into.

The best play by a Steeler on this snap is from Cam Heyward. Heyward sees the play stretching to his right and drives his blocker with the play to help limit any options Lamar Jackson has. The Steelers across the board show good intelligence and pursuit to the ball, but this sack was caused by a rookie lineman making a mistake.

Week 9, fourth quarter, 1:45. T.J. Watt is the edge rusher to the right side of the screen.

This is a really good rush from T.J. Watt. The power he shows when he drives the tackle inside to avoid the chip from the running back is impressive, and it gets him a half a sack as he gets to the quarterback before Cameron Heyward can complete the play.

But look at what Cameron Heyward does on this play. He gets outside the guard, drives him back and inside with one arm, then throws him to the ground and gets to the quarterback. In fact, Heyward throws three-year starter Connor Williams into the Cowboys right tackle, who is blocking T.J. Watt. It frees T.J. Watt to get to the quarterback.

T.J. Watt’s play on this snap is fantastic. But without that guard hitting his tackle, and without Cameron Heyward holding onto the quarterback, T.J. Watt likely doesn’t get a sack here. As good as he is, and as well as he executes his rush on this play, he needs other factors to go in his favor to get a sack.

In week 8 T.J. Watt got a full sack on what was really a run play in part because he hustled, but more than that, because a rookie lineman made a bad mistake. In week 9 Watt made a fantastic rush that got him a half a sack because Cameron Heyward dominated his own blocker.

Being a great pass rusher doesn’t mean you will get a lot of sacks, and sometimes players who aren’t great rushers will get sacks because of the circumstances they are put in by their team mates and the opponents. T.J. Watt’s response to the phrase “It’s better to be lucky than good” would be, “It’s best to be both.”