Just the Presence of T.J. Watt is Changing Outcomes for Steelers

(Curt Popejoy/USA Today)

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Yesterday, the Pittsburgh Steelers defeated division-rival Baltimore Ravens 20-19 in a hard-fought battle at Heinz Field.  The Ravens scored a touchdown with 12 seconds remaining, followed by Ravens coach Jim Harbaugh deciding to attempt the two-point conversion to go for the win.  Quarterback Lamar Jackson's pass attempt was just a touch ahead of tight end Mark Andrews, leading to an incompletion, a failed conversion attempt, and a Steelers victory.  The T.J. Watt-led defense created havoc for the Ravens all game, continuing to show just how important he is to this team and its success.

After testing positive for COVID-19 on Monday, it looked like Watt was set to miss out on this week's game.  However, Watt provided two negatives tests in time to get activated for the game.  This provided a huge boost to the team, as his presence on defense was greatly felt Sunday.  Watt recorded 3.5 sacks and a forced fumble in the win, a stellar performance that brings his yearly sack total to 16.  Not only does he lead the league in sacks, but he has done so while missing two and a half games.  Watt is a full two sacks ahead of second-place, Cleveland Browns defensive end Myles Garrett.  He continues to prove that the contract he signed with in the offseason was a wise investment by the Steelers organization.

Watt's record-breaking, four-year, $112 million contract over the offseason, was met with some skepticism by fans and media alike.  The main criticism was how a team could justify paying a defensive player that much money when they don't have as much of an impact on the outcome of a game as offensive skill players, such as quarterbacks.  Yet, Watt has proved time and time again this season that he greatly affects every game and was worth every penny of his contract.

Impact When Watt is Missing

Look no further than the games T.J. Watt has missed this season.  A slew of injuries has kept him out of two games this season, both of which resulted in a Steelers loss - the first game against the Cincinnati Bengals and another against the Los Angeles Chargers.  In the game against the Bengals, the Steelers defense finished with no sacks and no quarterback hits in Watt's absence.  

In the other Watt-less game against the Chargers, the defense surrendered 41 points and allowed ninety rushing yards to quarterback Justin Herbert, a quarterback known for his throwing abilities, not his running prowess.  

When Watt is on the field, it is evident that his presence has a huge effect on the overall play of the defense.  He is all over the field and making life difficult for opposing offensive linemen and quarterbacks.  However, how much the Steelers defense struggles in his absence is just as notable, if not more.

A Gigantic Presence

Watt had the biggest presence of any player on the field yesterday.  Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson has become one of the most recognized quarterbacks in the league for his ability to create plays with his legs.  Whether it is running the ball or escaping a collapsing pocket, Jackson has become known for dynamism.  However, Watt and the defense stymied his abilities Sunday.  

The Steelers held the Ravens explosive offense to only 19 points, limiting Jackson to only 55 rushing yards and sacking him a whopping seven times, half of those provided by Watt.  It was a classic performance by the Steelers defense after having two miserable outings in a row and a lot of that had to do with Watt and his ability to get after the quarterback.

At this point, it is undeniable what a healthy T.J. Watt can provide to this team.  His pass-rushing abilities completely transform this defense and the outcomes of games.  When the Steelers defense truly thrives when they make the opposing quarterback uncomfortable in the pocket, and a lot of that has to do with #90.  

His 16 sacks in only 9.5 games played is an incredible feat, but it's his plays that don't show up on the stat sheet that are just as important to this defense's success.  None of which was more important than on the two-point attempt mentioned earlier. On the play, Watt was able to get pressure off of the edge right in Jackson's face, forcing him to alter his throw just enough to cause the incompletion.  

His ability to affect the game, to the extent that Watt does as a defensive player, is something that very few in this league can do.  When he is playing at his highest level, like he is this season, his impact can be felt throughout the game and it lifts the rest of the defense to play at an elite level.  I've said it before and I'll say it again - paying T.J. Watt was the right move by the Steelers organization and performances like yesterday's continue to prove it.