T.J. Watt steps on the field, Pittsburgh Steelers win.
It’s a story we should all be familiar with. The Steelers are now 52-22-1 with T.J. Watt playing at least half the game, a 70.3% win percentage. That would be the second highest win rate in the NFL since 2017. I can spoil this one, T.J. Watt played more than 50% of the snaps against the Saints, and the Steelers won.
But this game shows so much more than just Watt returning, the Steelers did a lot of different things in this game, and the snap counts show it.
The Steelers again saw their offensive line intact for the whole game, and when you add in the quarterback, that’s usually a good sign. But the best sign in this game was the snap count. 84 snaps on 11 drives is an average of over 7 plays a drive. The Steelers offense only had two drives that went three and out, and had four scoring drives. That’s a great ratio, and it’s how you dominate possession of the football. Wearing down the Saints defense with long drives let the Steelers run the ball and control the clock in the second half, Racking up 20:56 with the ball, and a better than 2-1 ratio in time of possession and a huge lead in number of plays.
With Chase Claypool out the Steelers went tight end heavy, averaging 1.48 tight ends/fullbacks per snap, up from 1.25 the first half of the season. With the increase in tight end snaps, the Steelers saw a drop in wide receiver snaps to 2.48 per snap. The Steelers played a third receiver less than half the time in Week 10.
Pat Freiermuth saw a big change in usage, as he went from being used in-line 68% of snaps to only 50% in-line. He spent 35% of his snaps in the slot and doubled his number of snaps lined up outside by lining up as a wide out 6 times.
Diontae Johnson and George Pickens actually saw a decrease in usage in their first game without Chase Claypool, but that was largely due to the end of the game when the Steelers were using their run packages and playing Miles Boykin and Gunner Olszewski.
Filling the 4% of flex player snaps that are left unaccounted for by tight ends, full backs and receivers were two extra lineman snaps, and two snaps with both Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren on the field together.
Due to the high snap counts, most of the new Steelers played their most snaps as a Steeler, along with several veterans. Chukwuma Okorafor played the second most snaps of his career, behind only the 2021 tie to Detroit that obviously involved overtime.
Among the surprises that did not set a new Steeler snap record were Jaylen Warren and George Pickens, while Diontae Johnson’s 77 snaps is a new career high for him. He earned it with his most efficient game in a long time, posting his second-best yards per target (12.6) ever when targeted at least 5 times.
It’s only one game, but the Steelers found a model that worked better than any other they have used this season, let’s hope they can build on it.
Both safeties and starting cornerbacks played 100% of the snaps in Week 10 along with Robert Spillane, who has to be the award winner for the “Mike Tomlin likes this guy more than any fan” award so far this season.
The real story of this game is the Steelers playing a total of 47 snaps on defense. The Steelers offense dominated possession, and the defense remained sharp and effective all game, especially in the second half when the Saints only gained two first downs with one being from a penalty. Damontae Kazee stepped in for Minkah Fitzpatrick and played a very good game, can’t wait to see him and Fitzpatrick on the field together, if the universe allows.
Levi Wallace looked more comfortable and confident on the field than I’ve seen him so far in his Steeler tenure, hopefully that continues. Alex Highsmith got to Andy Dalton twice with T.J. Watt on the other side, and frankly, this year’s version of Highsmith is the best OLB teammate Watt has had in his career. If those two and the defensive line stay healthy, they can carry this defense, and team, to a lot of wins.
Arthur Maulet drew some of the toughest assignments matching up with Chris Olave a lot in Week 10, and made some great plays in coverage. The defense had all of one not great drive, and looked like a unit that could set the Steelers on a course to push for the division lead. We’ll see if the offense can score enough to get them there.
The Steelers now have the blueprint for success, but the question now is whether the team can duplicate it on a weekly basis? The next game, a Week 11 game vs. the Cincinnati Bengals at Acrisure Stadium, will certainly test this theory.
Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for their next game in the 2022 regular season.