Today is the Day for T.J. Watt

(Matt Durisko/Associated Press)

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It's a been long year for Steelers fans.  We've endured a tumultuous season from our favorite team, filled with lots of ups and downs.  And unfortunately, it seems as if the downs have overshadowed the ups. 

Their record isn't where we'd like it to be and even though there is still hope of making the playoffs heading into this season's final game against the Baltimore Ravens, it looks unlikely to happen.  They must defeat the Ravens and they also need the Jacksonville Jaguars, the team most likely to select first in next year's draft, to upset the Indianapolis Colts.  So yeah, not great odds.

All of these ups and downs have come over the course of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's last season with the Steelers.  We were lucky enough to celebrate his illustrious career last week with a win against the Cleveland Browns in his final home game, and while this week's game will technically be his last, it feels as if we've already sent him off into the sunset.  That leaves one last positive left to come from this overall disappointment of a season. For that, we will be looking at linebacker T.J. Watt to provide it.

Watt enters this today's game with 21.5 sacks this season.  An astonishing number and even more so when you consider that he accomplished this while missing a full game and the better part of two others.  The single season sack record of 22.5 was set in 2001 by New York Giant defensive end Michael Strahan.  Yes, the same Michael Strahan from your favorite morning shows and commercials.  After recording four sacks against the Browns last week, that put Watt one sack away from tying Strahan's record and 1.5 away from breaking it.

The Baltimore Ravens aren't an easy matchup for pass rushers, a team that features a running quarterback that can easily evade any pressure.  While we've become accustomed to seeing Lamar Jackson in that role for them, he will miss this week's game due to injury.  In his stead will be Tyler Huntley, a quarterback just as capable at avoiding sacks at Jackson.  

However, if anyone would be up for the task, it is T.J. Watt.  He has been relentless all season at attacking opposing quarterbacks and dominating offensive tackles week in and week out.  With a little extra on the line this week, we can expect a top notch performance out of the linebacker.

Not only is the sack record within reach, but Watt will be hoping to lock up Defensive Play of the Year honors with another stellar performance this week.  Breaking the single season sack record would almost certainly assure that is the case.  He's come close to the award twice before but has not yet been able to secure the top spot for it.  On top of his 21.5 sacks, he has forced four fumbles and recovered three.  He's tipped numerous passes at the line scrimmage.  And all year long, he's been the catalyst of this defense.  

When Watt's been off the field, the defense has lacked pressure on the quarterback, which has led to increased yards and points allowed quite by a significant margin.  He's built a fantastic resume for himself and it's tough to argue any other defensive player was more valuable to their team this season than he was.

So while it has been a tough season for the Steelers, T.J. Watt can end it on a high note and send the fans into the 2022 season with some hope.  Breaking the most sought after record for a pass rusher, and winning the award for best defensive player in all of football would be quite the way to cap off the 2021-22 season.  

There was some backlash in the offseason when the Steelers signed Watt to his record-breaking deal, but it has clearly been money well spent.  Watt is as crucial a piece of this team as any other player and the accolades that could follow prove as much.  I'll be cheering hard for him to get his 1.5 sacks today and hope it will lead to Defensive Player of the Year, if what he's done so far this year already hasn't.