In 2019 Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt finished third in the voting for NFL Defensive Player of the Year. This season he’s one of the early favorites to win that honor, this in the wake of being named Defensive Player of the Week (after Pittsburgh’s second game of the season) and Defensive Player of the Month for September.
It’s the second time in his young career that he has won Defensive Player of the Month, the last time coming in November 2019. He has also won Defensive Player of the Week honors on three different occasions, the first two times coming in 2018.
T.J. Watt: ‘Game Wrecker’
It’s not a surprise that Watt is taking his game to the next level. During training camp he made it known that he wasn’t satisfied with being a runner-up in Defensive Player of the Year voting. “I want to be able to be a ‘game wrecker,’ a guy teams scheme around. And I know Bud does as well,” he proclaimed, a reference to teammate and fellow outside linebacker Bud Dupree.
Asked about Watt’s compete level, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said, “He was pretty awesome a year ago to be quite honest with you. I know he has an intention of being continually better, so he’s still writing that story. His talents are just a part of the equation. His hyper-focus, his attention to detail, his awareness I think all add up to big playmaking ability and splash plays for us.”
Playmaking ability and splash plays indeed.
In 2019 the former first-round draft pick (2017 NFL Draft) produced a career high 14.5 sacks and eight forced fumbles in addition to two interceptions and eight passes defensed. He was also in on 55 total tackles and responsible for 36 quarterback hits and 14 tackles for loss.
This year Watt has already authored three-and-a-half sacks, 10 quarterback hits, nine tackles, three tackles for a loss, two passes defensed and an interception.
J.J. Watt’s ‘Peer’ Pressure
No doubt, T.J. Watt is also drawing at least some motivation from trying to reach the standards set by his brother J.J., who has won the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year award three times and likes to needle his younger brother about being the most accomplished NFL player in the family.
In September, when J.J. was asked when he started to see T.J. as a peer, he quipped: “Once he has three Defensive Player of the Year awards, I’ll start to see him as a peer.”
Progress Toward 50+ Sacks
But T.J. Watt can take comfort in the fact that with 15 total sacks so far in 2020, the Steelers are already well on their way to reaching their goal of a fourth consecutive season with 50 or more sacks. That would not only be a new franchise record but an achievement that hasn’t been seen in the NFL since the 1980s. It also would give the team the opportunity to tie the NFL record for most consecutive seasons with 50 or more sacks during the 2021 season, a record that was set in the 1980s and is held by three different teams.
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