Are you one of those people who like to present both sides of an argument? I know I am. Part of being able to come to a logical conclusion isn’t just about making your own point valid, but also invalidating the counterpoints. For this reason, I’m going to do something a little bit out of the ordinary here and offer a point/counterpoint argued completely by…me. Yes, I’m going to present both sides of the argument. I admit, I’m going to use some other sources, especially when it comes to the counterpoint side of things. But overall, I am merely having an argument against myself and I will let you all decide which part of me wins.
The question at hand has to do with the total number of sacks registered by Trent Jordan Watt of the Pittsburgh Steelers during the 2021 NFL regular season. At this time, T.J. Watt is credited with 22.5 sacks, tying him with Michael Strahan for the single-season record since 1982 when sacks became an official individual statistic. The reason the issue was brought up is because it was believed T.J. Watt had a sack in the Steelers Week 18 matchup against the Baltimore Ravens only for it to then be ruled an aborted play minutes later and the sack taken away. What should it have been?
By the way, neither side will be arguing for half a sack. That’s not possible. It’s either a sack or it isn’t.
It should also be noted the Steelers requested a review of the play in order for the statistic to be changed.
In order to make the argument, we first must see it with our own eyes. Here is the play courtesy of BTSC Deputy Editor Michael Beck (please don’t allow his opinions to sway you just yet):
This was clearly a passing play… TJ Watt should be credited for a sack pic.twitter.com/GvATYWyjMO— Michael Beck (@MichaelBeck56) January 10, 2022
So let’s get into it…
It is a pass play. The offensive line drops into pass protection and the receivers run routes. On the play, even though the ball is rolling to the quarterback, he picks up the ball. After he does, Watt forces the fumble. Any other time a player forces a fumble from a quarterback either at or behind the line of scrimmage on a pass play, the player forcing the fumble also gets credit for a sack.
It was ruled an aborted play. The rules governing aborted plays are clearly outlined in the NFL‘s statisticians guide as follows (not all information about aborted plays is included to save time/space):
3. Aborted Plays An aborted play is a play from scrimmage during which there is neither a pass nor a kick, which falls into one of the following categories:
A. the ball is clearly centered improperly, meaning that the ball does not reach the intended receiver of the snap within the frame of his body or arm-span
EXCEPTIONS: If the player who recovers the fumble makes an apparent attempt to pass and is tackled behind the line of scrimmage, score the play as a sack, not an aborted play. If there is doubt as to whether or not the player recovering the fumble was able to collect himself and make a legitimate apparent attempt to pass, the play shall be regarded as an aborted play. In all of these cases, a fumble and recovery are recorded.
It’s a pretty clear-cut case it is an aborted play and, therefore, not a sack.
But what about the very next line of the statisticians guide which says the following?
If a defender forces the fumble, the play is not aborted.
If the only argument keeping it from being a sack is that it’s an aborted play, doesn’t this statement destroy the argument?
Not at all. That says the defender forces “the“ fumble. This is not the fumble at the end, but the fumble to cause it to be an aborted play. That was caused by a bad snap from the center. The fumble caused by T.J. Watt was a completely different fumble.
But T.J. Watt was credited with a forced fumble. This means Ravens quarterback Tyler Huntley regained possession of the ball. This would constitute “makes an apparent attempt to pass” because he fully recovered the ball and was still legally allowed to pass the ball on a pass play. Wouldn’t that create the sack scenario listed in the example?
Was there enough time for Huntley to pass the ball? Can it be determined whether or not he would have attempted to complete a pass or simply would have run the ball? It could be determined he was a runner at that point.
That may be the weakest argument at this point— saying he’s a runner. If a defensive tackle mistakenly goes unblocked by the offense and ends up in the quarterbacks face immediately after he catches a shotgun snap and tackles him, is that not ruled a sack based on it appearing to be a pass play? Or is he a runner simply because he didn’t have time to pass? The fact that the quarterback does not have time to throw the ball because of the efforts of the defender does not take it away from being ‘the offense as a whole’ attempting to pass.
I admit, the “he was a runner at that point“ argument is very weak. But it still does not mean that the NFL will not see it that way enough to change the ruling. The bigger question will be if they rule that Huntley collected the ball enough with ‘an intent to pass.’
He didn’t get a chance because of the outstanding play by T.J. Watt. When the guide talks about where the player must be “able to collect himself and make a legitimate apparent attempt to pass” he’s talking about what the player decides to do after getting the ball, not what the defense does in response. Their example is covering the situation where Huntley would have chosen to fall on the ball and give himself up which would make it not a sack, not that he recovered the fumble and was on his feet when he then had the ball stripped away. He was legitimately trying to do something on a pass play and T.J. Watt stopped him from doing it.
Also, once Huntley recovers the ball fully, it shouldn’t matter how the fumble occurred in the first place. If the only thing keeping this play from being called a sack is that it is an aborted play, how would it be different if Huntley received a perfect snap, dropped it between his feet, and then reached down to pick it up? From that point on, it would be the exact same scenario as what actually occurred: The quarterback had the ball after recovering a fumble on a pass play and then had the ball stripped from him. The fact that it was a bad snap and not his own fumble should not be the determining factor as to whether or not it is an aborted play or a sack. His recovery of the fumble and being in a position to legally have a fumble forced from him (meaning he is not laying on the ground) negates everything else that happened to get him to that point. The fact something else happened statistically (the forced fumble) after what would have caused it to be an aborted play makes it no longer an aborted play.
At this point, I have no arguments against those points other than the already presented case. The NFL will likely look at this and not rule in the Steelers favor based on the language they used in the statisticians guide and how it would change the all-time record books.
So there it is. This is the argument I’ve had with myself in trying to determine whether or not this play will be ruled a sack in favor of T.J. Watt. There may have been more points to the argument that can be made, but this is where it ended with me.
So what do you think? Will the NFL rule this play a sack and give T.J. Watt 23.5 sacks on the season, breaking the single-season NFL record? Make sure you vote in the poll and, just like the article linked above, leave your thoughts in the comments below.
Which side of the argument wins out in regards to T.J. Watt being credited with another sack in Week 18?
The Point (the argument for it being a sack)
The Counterpoint (the argument against it being a sack)
It’s a tie (unlike the Chargers-Raiders game)
I want it to be ruled a sack, but the argument against it is too strong.