When it comes to AFC North football, there are certain players who stand out among the crowd. Players like Ja’Marr Chase of the Cincinnati Bengals, Lamar Jackson of the Baltimore Ravens, Nick Chubb of the Cleveland Browns, and for the Pittsburgh Steelers it would be T.J. Watt.
The defending Defensive Player of the Year gets plenty of attention every week, but when facing the Bengals, a team Watt has done plenty of damage against in his career, the AFC North rivals pay extra attention to No. 90 in black and gold.
“You gotta get the ball out quickly.” Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow said of playing against Watt. “He is probably the only guy in the league that you have to worry about when you do get the ball out quickly because he is really good about reading the quarterback’s drop through the tackles and understanding when you are trying to throw the ball quickly, which you saw in the first game because he got an interception just based off of reading my feet and getting his hands up in the passing lanes. You gotta help with tight ends and running backs and me getting the ball out quickly. You can’t help on every play. Sometimes you’re just gonna have to block him. He is one of the premiere guys in the league that takes a lot of time and effort to game plan against.
“You’re never going to shut him down. You’re never going to take that away. He is too good a player. He is too impactful in the run game, pass game. You can minimize it but you can’t shut him down.”
Bengals head coach Zac Taylor knows the impact Watt has on the opposition all too well. On top of that, Taylor also knows just how the Steelers’ defense is impacted, for the better, with Watt in the lineup.
“He affects every play.” Taylor said. “He is really smart. You can just see he has tremendous awareness in the run and the pass. Does a great job hearing calls. Does a good job communicating to those around him. You can see that. Impacts the first run of the game he was involved in. First play they had a false start, second play he has a TFL, I think it was him and Cam (Heyward).
“He is somebody you always have to be aware of. He makes those behind him better. Watching all his snaps, the 90 or so came against us and then last week. Last week, as we are watching the personnel, the only time we were watching him play was against us so it’s remembrance of how good he is. Not that we forgot, but how good he is and how much he impacts that defense. You saw it last week when he was playing New Orleans. He lifts up that entire defense and makes a lot of plays. You have to be concerned with him on every play.”
Speaking of Week 1, there are a lot of differences between these two teams who met at Paycor Stadium in Cincinnati in Week 1. It’s a different venue, and a different environment, but Watt showed plenty in the nearly 90 plays the defense was on the field in the season opener.
“There are a lot of snaps in (that game). High 90s. Tape went on forever.” Taylor said when thinking back to the Steelers 23-20 overtime win in Week 1. “How much different? There are things they have been doing for years they obviously believe in and take great pride in doing.
“It starts with the front. They have a great front. Those four guys are healthy now. They’ve developed the depth behind those guys. They play those guys as much as you are going to see any front four take snaps in a game. They probably play the highest percentage of a front four of any defense in the league. There is a reason why. Because they are really good. It starts with them. With having all four of those guys healthy and the depth they have behind them, they just feed off of that. You can see that defense last week. Again, when you get T.J. back it steps up a notch. Those guys did a great job last week.”
If the Steelers are going to beat the Bengals, who are coming off their bye week, Sunday, they’ll need a spectacular performance from their defense. And when I say their defense, they will need T.J. Watt to be, well, T.J. Watt. If they can do that, they’ll give the team every chance to leave Week 11 with the win, and sweep the regular season series vs. the Bengals.
Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for the Bengals this Sunday at Acrisure Stadium.