It is apparent that first game nerves do apply to Pittsburgh Steelers rookie TJ Watt. In his first preseason game against the New York Giants, Watt recorded two sacks and tackles. After a strong training camp and preseason showing, many wondered if Watt could translate this type of success into the regular season. His response in the first regular season game on Sunday, against a vastly improved Cleveland Browns team, was by making history; becoming only the 3rd player in NFL history to record 2 sacks and an interception in an NFL debut. Perhaps what made Watt’s performance so impressive, was the fact that he utilized different elements of his skillset, noted prominently on his NFL Draft profile. Even with such an impressive debut, there is still much room to grow and develop, in order for Watt to become a premier pass rusher in the NFL.
TJ Watt 1st sack – pushed off the arc
The most effective pass rushers have the ability to establish the proper base to bend the edge and continue onwards to the quarterback. When evaluating TJ Watt during the preseason, it was apparent that Watt lacked the hip flexiblity to bend effectively; this was noted as well in his draft profile. With this noted, what Watt lacks in bending ability, he compensates it with hand play and a variety of maneuvers which allows him to get to the quarterback. Watt’s first sack seen in the clip below was a timely one as the Browns were able to get to the Steelers’ red zone. Watt generally utilizes a 2-point stance as seen in the clip. From the snap, he is unable to establish the base necessary to bend around the edge and is pushed off the arc. Watt then performs a quick spin move inside and gets the sack. The noticeable aspect about this spin move, is the level in which he performs this maneuver. Once he gets low, the tackle on his side no longer has leverage to push him completely of the arc.
TJ Watt 2st sack – Beats a double team
This sack is a great example of Watt’s hand play which was noted as a strength in his draft profile. Watt is seen in the clip in his trademark 2-point stance. From the snap, he engages with the Browns tight end whom he beats, then is met by the Browns running back. For a brief period of time, he’s double teamed by both the Browns tight end and running back. Later in the sequence, the Browns tight end appeared to have pushed away from the arc, but Watt displays persistence and continues on his trajectory towards the quarterback where he is eventually able to make the sack. Watt’s ability to continue pursuing the opposing team’s quarterback or running back was well documented in his preseason games, as well during scrimmage in training camp. This play is exemplary of what it takes to be an effective defensive player.
TJ Watt Interception – Play recognition
Watt before the draft was noted for having a very high football IQ. This interception is a small sample of his play recognition abilities. Before the ball is even snapped, he reads the quarterback and backs into coverage immediately. When the ball is snapped, notice that he allows the receiver to pass him and stays in his zone. In this particular instance, the Browns receiver was running what appeared to be a comeback route in which the Browns quarterback underthrows the ball to where TJ Watt is in the right position to make the interception.
One could not have asked for a better debut from a rookie playing a position that takes quite of bit of time to develop. What is frightening is that TJ Watt is only going to get better with time and experience. If Watt is able to replicate this performance throughout this season, it can only bode well for the Steelers chances of bringing home their seventh Lombardi trophy.
Stars of the Game
1st Star: WR Antonio Brown
To say the least, Antonio Brown speaks for himself. Simply, Brown has been the Steelers most consistent performer and yesterday was no exception. Brown accounted for 11 receptions for 182 yards. His most notable catch came with 2:47 in the 4th quarter, where Brown caught the game-clinching reception over three Browns defenders. Whenever the game is in doubt, Brown has proven to be the man that can get the job done consistently.
2nd Star: OLB TJ Watt
As detailed above, Watt became only the 3rd rookie in NFL history to debut with 2 sacks and an interception and it can only mean great things ahead. TJ Watt made life difficult with his various pass rush maneuvers, constant use of hands, and his persistent pursuit of the ball carrier. Watt has already proven with one game that he’s an essential component of the Steelers defense.
3rd Star: OLB Anthony Chickillo
Before TJ Watt, it was Anthony Chickillo that set the tone of the game, taking a Tyler Matakevich blocked punt into the end zone for the Steelers first touchdown. In the next defensive series, he followed it up with a sack. With starting OLB Bud Dupree out of the lineup, Chickillo made the most of his opportunities, by collecting 2 sacks and 6 total tackles.
4th Stars: TE Jesse James
The third year tight end proved to be effective in the red zone, accounting for 2 of the Steelers 3 touchdowns on the day. One of the noted areas of concern for the Steelers coming into this season was at the tight end position. James became the first tight end since Heath Miller to record multiple touchdowns in a game.