PITTSBURGH (NWN) — The metrics are easy. When TJ Watts plays, the Pittsburgh Steelers are a playoff contender.
When he doesn’t, they get into trouble. There are many problems.
Three months after signing one of the richest contracts Given to a defender in NFL history, the perennial All-Pro outside linebacker seems underpaid somehow.
Stacking 16 sacks – including 3 1/2 on Sunday, a heart-wrenching 20-19 win over Baltimore that dealt a much-needed blow to Pittsburgh’s scattershot season – will do.
Imagine if he was healthy all year round. Watt missed two games due to injuries and was ruled out by two others. The fact that the Steelers are 0-3-1 in those games is no coincidence. They’re 6-2 when Watt’s number 90 is in full flight from the edge, bringing a unique brand of chaos that inspires a defense that’s normal — or worse — when he’s standing on the sidelines in sweatpants or Looking at home from his couch.
Watt did not even practice last week after being placed in COVID-19 protocol, 24 hours after inflicting a blow to Cincinnati. He virtually attended meetings and attempted to prepare for the game by churning out the turf around the trees in his yard and throwing a pair of cleats.
Baltimore quarterback Lamar Jackson is more elusive than your random pine or oak tree. Then again, Watt is a little more frantic than your random linebacker. Two of the NFL’s best young players have repeatedly found themselves on collision course.
Over and over again Watt found a way to succeed where many others failed, including disrupting Jackson’s time. force a little wrong pass With 12 seconds to go on a 2-point conversion attempt that changed the outcome of the game.
If Watts isn’t, Jackson flips a wide open near Mark Andrews for a score that likely ends Pittsburgh’s chances at AFC North.
Extending all 6 feet 4 inches of his frame in an attempt to intercept Jackson, Watt was only there, whose sidearm throw was caught by Andrews’ hand and Heinz fell harmlessly onto the field turf.
“TJ Watts, he’s a great defender, a great sprinter,” Jackson said. “He was doing his job there tonight.”
And doing it on a level rarely seen in NFL history. Watt has already tied James Harrison’s franchise record for sacks in one season and is on pace to break Michael Strahan’s single-season NFL record (22 1/2), noting that Watt was originally from the waist, The equivalent of three full games have been missed because of the hip. and a knee injury and spent the last week tearing down his yard while living in COVID-19 protocol.
“He is unique,” said Steelers coach Mike Tomlin. “He’s unique and a collection of unique people. But you know, his production, his output is unique. And so, you know, we shouldn’t be surprised that his method or his process is unique. His level of effort, His attention to detail, his intensity. All are unique.”
“He’s a game-wrecker,” said Steelers safety Minka Fitzpatrick. “He’s the kind of guy who will go out there and create havoc. The energy he plays with, the passion he plays with. I wouldn’t call it anger, but when he’s out there, he’s angry.”
Fitzpatrick believes Watt has stamped himself as the favorite for the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year, an honor Fitzpatrick believes Watts deserves a third in 2019 and last season Was “robbed” while in second place.
It’s an award Watt’s older brother JJ has captured three times over the past decade, anchoring the Houston Texans’ defensive line. It’s an award that Watts had hoped to contend with after the Steelers signed that massive expansion in early September.
Watt vowed that the pressure that came with all those zeros on his contract would not change his outlook. If anything, it’s only enhanced. Good thing. Any chance of approaching the Steelers after the season depends largely on Watt providing the juice for a team in dire need of power.
what is working
The offense found a rhythm against the Ravens in the second half by mixing in a fair amount of unhindered play, an approach that gives quarterback Ben Roethlisberger more flexibility in calling plays. Yet Roethlisberger made it a point to praise first-year offensive coordinator Matt Canada when, after a 29-yard touchdown throw to Deonte Johnson, pointed to the box where Canada was sitting as a sign of respect. .
what help do you need
While Johnson is flourishing, the group behind him on the depth charts – Chase Claypool, James Washington and Ray Ray McCloud – have been a mixed bag at best. For the time being, it makes the case that all three rank below Johnson, leaving Nazi Harris behind and tight end Pat Friermuth in the pecking order of Roethlisberger’s favorite goals.
Practice squad guys. The Steelers have been forced to rely heavily on players like defensive tackle Montravius Adams – signed away from Seattle last week – and guard John Leglue, who made the first regular of his career after going down in the first quarter to BJ Finney. – Season Snap played. a back injury.
A rare holiday for kicker Chris Boswell almost cost the Steelers. He missed an extra point at the start of the fourth quarter, which tied the game and later went out of bounds to give the Ravens excellent field conditions 20-13 to play with 1:48.
Phinney is likely to be unavailable to play Minnesota on Thursday. Defensive back Joe Haden’s slow recovery from a sprained leg leaves his position precarious. The team got a little good news on Monday when it activated inside linebacker Robert Spillane from injured reserve.
39 – The number of returns in the fourth quarter by Roethlisberger during his 18-year career. Only Peyton Manning (43) and Tom Brady (41) have more.
Hope the momentum continues on Thursday night in the team’s first trip to Minnesota (5-7) since 2005.
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