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T.J. Watt was a game-wrecker against the Browns

Watt put an end to a number of Cleveland drives on Monday night at Heinz Field

NFL: Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers are coming off a big win in Ben Roethlisberger’s final home game. Going into the game, many Steelers’ fans hoped Ben Roethlisberger would be able to just throw the team on his back and lead them to victory once again. Instead, it was actually T.J. Watt who came through in the game-wrecking role. Watt’s performance in the game is the subject for this week’s Steelers Vertex.

Let’s get a quick reminder of where this nerdiness is coming from.

Vertex- a single point where two or more lines cross.

Sometimes to make a great point, it takes two different systems of analysis to come together and build off each other in order to drawl a proper conclusion. In this case, the two methods are statistical analysis and film breakdown. Enter Dave Schofield (the stat geek) and Geoffrey Benedict (the film guru) to come together to prove a single point based on our two lines of thinking.

Here comes the breakdown from two different lines of analysis.


The Stats Line:

Just looking at the numbers, there was no reason to question why T.J. Watt was selected the AFC Defensive Player of the Week for the third time of a 2021 NFL season. For the game, T.J. Watt put up 4.0 sacks, five tackles, two passes defensed, and five quarterback hits.

The not only did the statistics for the entire game show the effect Watt had in stopping the Browns, there was even more. Thanks to being tipped off by Geoffrey ahead of time, I was able to verify that T.J. Watt was responsible for ending five of the Browns first eight drives to start the game which went into the third-quarter. In fact, it wasn’t until the ninth drive where the Browns got on the scoreboard.

So how did Watt end these drives? Three of them were ended by sacks on third down which led to punts. Another drive was ended on fourth down when Watt put pressure on Baker Mayfield and Cam Heyward batted down the pass. The other drive was a third down incompletion in which Watt pressured Mayfield on the play. For those who are curious, the three drives to start the game by the Browns which were not ended by T.J. Watt came on an incomplete pass, a third down sack by Cameron Heyward, and Ahkello Witherspoon‘s interception.

Needless to say, T.J. Watt was wreaking havoc on the Browns offense. It’s nice to hear the numbers, but now it’s time to see Watt in action as we look at the film.


The Film Line:

We start with the Browns second drive of the night.

Steelers v Browns, 1st quarter, 5:33.

T.J. Watt is the edge defender to the top of the screen, Cameron Heyward is in the middle of the line.

First off, got to give some love to Cameron Heyward. Look at his hands, how he controls the block, disengaging and punching with his right hand at will as he walks 4-time Pro-Bowl guard Joel Bitonio back into the pocket. He’s able to get his hands up to bat the ball down because Bitonio has zero control over Heyward. Instead, Heyward is in complete control. It’s cool to get this good of a view of Heyward’s hands at work.

The best part of T.J. Watt’s rush is the Browns try to give the rookie help but it doesn’t matter, Watt is already too far up the arc. Crazy thing is, this isn’t a really good move from Watt, they get hands on each other, Watt drives him back, gets his left arm over the tackle’s right and pushes past him. We’ll see real pass rush moves in this film room, but this? T.J. Watt is just physically man-handling a 313 lb. lineman to rush Mayfield’s throw on 4th down.

Steelers v Browns, 1st quarter, 0:06.

T.J. Watt is the edge defender to the top of the screen.

While I’ve already seen people saying the Browns didn’t give their right tackle any help, there’s plenty of times they did. And at times it stopped Watt’s pass rush. Unfortunately for the Browns, the NFL sack leader isn’t limited to just making sacks. Watt notices Baker Mayfield’s drop, realizes the ball is coming his way, and squats, ready to pounce on the ball when it is thrown. He gets it too. This was second down, and it set up a third and more than 5, which means he gets to rush freely, no run responsibility, no coverage options, just go get the quarterback.

Steelers v Browns, 1st quarter, 0:02.

T.J. Watt is the edge defender to the top of the screen.

No edge defender is better at pure pass rushing than T.J. Watt right now. Watt catches the tackle’s wrists and pushes past him easily. If the above play didn’t show off Watt’s incredibly quick reaction time enough, this play certainly does. #30 does his tackle no favors on his way out into the flat. Nick Chubb regularly chipped Watt, slowing his speed around the arc and taking away these simple speed rushes on plays like this. If you watch closely you can see that Watt changed his angle to flatten before the back would have chipped him, then made his move past the tackle once the back was clear. Effectively double-teaming T.J. Watt is not easy.

T.J. Watt provided pressure on the play that ended the second Browns drive, on the third he took care of both second and third down to force a punt.

Steelers v Browns, 2nd quarter, 10:01.

T.J. Watt is the edge defender to the bottom of the screen.

This time #66 is trying to drive Watt out right here, just get hands on him and push him away from the pocket to buy his quarterback some time to convert this 3rd down. Watt simply removes the tackle’s hands from him, dips a bit to flatten his rush and he’s through. It’s fantastic when you see a quarterback turn and ditch the ball like he’s playing hot potato, he’s more concerned with getting rid of the ball than he is giving his back a chance to catch the ball on this slow screen play that had a decent chance if the ball is thrown well. That injured shoulder was on his mind, and you can see when Watt runs into him, his right hand goes to that shoulder, just to let Mayfield know he’s there, and it’s going to be a long day.

That’s the end of the fourth drive of the game, and three straight drive ending plays involving T.J. Watt. The next drive would not be ended by T.J. Watt, as the Steelers intercepted Mayfield on first down. So we can skip to the Browns sixth drive of the game.

Steelers v Browns, 2nd quarter, 0:49.

T.J. Watt is the edge defender to the bottom of the screen.

It’s 3rd and 2, so the Browns take Nick Chubb out of the game and put Baker Mayfield in shotgun. The Steelers don’t struggle at all to cover the Browns attack on the middle of the field (the guy Robert Spillane passes off is picked up by Minkah Fitzpatrick) and Baker Mayfield has no where to go with the football.

This play does a good job of showing how Keith Butler takes advantage of T.J. Watt’s dominance as a pass rusher. This is a blitz, there are 5 rushers, but 4 of them are containing the pocket, keeping Mayfield from running for the first down, but also trapping him in the pocket while Watt hunts him down for sack #2, and a fourth wrecked drive.

Steelers v Browns, 3rd quarter, 6:08.

T.J. Watt is the edge defender to the top of the screen.

I don’t know what tipped Watt off to this throw a second time, but he’s sitting in that passing lane from the start this time, and he gets another pass defended to set up another third down.

Steelers v Browns, 3rd quarter, 6:04.

T.J. Watt is the edge defender to the top of the screen.

This time the back is there to help the tackle, but T.J. Watt is able to come inside after Mayfield. Montravius Adams is coming up the middle, and when Watt cuts inside Baker heads out of the pocket. As he slides, Watt touches him down for sack #3, and a fifth drive ending play in Cleveland’s first 8 drives.

One thing to notice here is how Adams starts his rush. his first steps are outside, toward the guard. You can see the guard is trying to split his attention between Adams and Watt, and Adams going to his side takes advantage of that divided attention, and also forces the guard to abandon any help he could have offered his tackle. If Watt goes inside, the guard is there to help the tackle, and if Watt goes outside, the back will help. The Browns may not have successfully double-teamed T.J. Watt on this play, but it wasn’t because they didn’t try.


The Point:

The Steelers lead the NFL in sacks since 2015 by 44 over the next team, and a large part of that is Keith Butler’s pass rush scheme and teaching. Since T.J. Watt joined the team in 2017 they have led the NFL in sacks every year.

T.J. Watt is a finisher. He turns pressure into sacks at an incredible rate, and he makes plays in other ways too. Against the Browns he made plays to finish off drives repeatedly, keeping them off the scoreboard for well over half the game, putting his team in great position to get the win. On critical downs, T.J. Watt was taking care of business and getting the Steelers defense off the field.