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T.J. Watt is showing why he deserves to be known as more than just J.J.’s little brother

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It’s too bad that it might have taken another injury to his brother for T.J. to get noticed. Retired defensive end Stephen White explains why the Steelers’ young pass rusher is the real deal.

Steelers OLB TJ Watt yells excitedly, superimposed on a black-and-white background with X’s and O’s
T.J. Watt has been a star for the Steelers and could vault himself into the Defensive Player of the Year race.

Earlier this season while I was working on Nick Bosa’s ”post-draft breakdown,” I noticed that both he and his brother, Joey, had at least three sacks at that point in the season. That got me a little curious, so I decided to check in on the other dynamic duo of edge rushing brothers, J.J. and his “little” brother T.J. Watt, to see what kind of seasons they were having statistically. That’s when I noticed that both of them also had at least three sacks after the fifth week of the season.

I watch all of the games every week, and it was apparent that all four guys were playing well, beyond just their sack totals. I started to muse that there was a good chance all four of them would make Pro Bowl at the end of this year.

If it were to happen and two sets of brothers were named to the Pro Bowl all at practically the same position, that would be unprecedented. Both J.J. and T.J. Watt made it last year, and Joey Bosa was selected in 2017. Back when I was writing Nick’s breakdown, I thought he might end up having a hard time breaking through just because he is a rookie. Since then, however, he has turned it on.

Of that foursome, T.J. Watt is the least heralded

While his big brother was drafted 11th overall, and both Bosas went in the top three, T.J. hung around until the 30th pick. It is worth noting that T.J., who is in his third year in the NFL, has a career high of 13 sacks, which is a half a sack more than Joey’s career high of 12.5.

Sacks are not the only measurement of an edge rusher’s impact. But what I’m saying here is while you may hear a little more about the other guys, T.J. definitely belongs in the conversation with them, too.

Fast forward to this past Sunday and the Bosa brothers certainly did their part to keep pushing closer to a Pro Bowl berth. Nick was absolutely dominant in the 49ers’ rout of the Panthers, with three sacks and an interception, while Joey showed out in the Chargers’ comeback win over the Chicago Bears in which he posted two sacks of his own. Their combined five sacks broke the NFL record for sacks credited to brothers on the same day of the season.

Care to hazard a guess at who previously owned that record?

Yep, that’s right. The Watts had four sacks combined in Week 5 of last season to tie the record with Jimmy and Toby Williams, who also accomplished the feat back in 1985.

Unfortunately, Sunday wouldn’t go nearly as well for the Watt family.

J.J. left the Texans’ game in the middle of the second quarter after suffering an injury. A few hours after the game, he took to social media to announce that the injury would knock him out for the rest of the season. I can’t imagine how disappointing that news must have been for him after he bounced back from multiple injuries in the prime of his career. Selfishly, I was also a little upset because I just love watching the guy play football.

However, injuries are a part of the game, as anyone who has played will tell you, and the show must always go on. While I am sure T.J. was pretty bummed about his brother’s injury as well, he still had a game of his own to play on Monday night.

T.J. Watt biggest play against the Dolphins was a three-step masterpiece

As it turns out, the winless Dolphins still have some fight in them even with such a terrible start to their season. After an interception and a turnover on downs on the Steelers’ first two series, T.J. and his team found themselves down 14-0 right out of the gate on Monday night. The Steelers eventually got the lead in the third quarter, but it was a tight game throughout. Not only could T.J. not afford to be distracted by his brother’s situation, he would need to turn in one of his best performances of the year to help close out the game.

I want to point out probably the most impactful play he made in the second half on Monday night.

By the middle of the fourth quarter, the Steelers had pulled ahead 24-14 and were looking to close the door. The Dolphins had the ball at their own 28-yard line after their defense forced a punt.

The Dolphins came out with their quarterback, Ryan Fitzpatrick, in shotgun with two receivers and a tight end to his right, one wide receiver to his left, and the running back offset to his left beside him.

T.J. Watt was lined up at his usual spot on the left defensive edge in a nine-technique outside of the tight end. On the snap, tight end Mike Gesicki went right into his route straight up the field, leaving Dolphins right tackle Jesse Davis all by his lonesome to block Watt in space.

In about three seconds, here’s everything Watt did to help the Steelers secure the victory.

Step 1: Used a quick move to get by the OL

Watt got off the ball and took five hard steps in a flash to sell a speed rush and get Davis to bail out of his pass set.

On that fifth step, Watt planted his foot in the ground hard while simultaneously clubbing Davis’ inside (left) shoulder with Watt’s inside (right) hand. In one fluid motion, Watt executed what was essentially a jump cut inside of Davis while doing a quick arm-over with his outside (left) arm literally right over Davis’ head.

Steelers LB T.J. Watt jumps between two Dolphins offensive linemen to sack QB Ryan Fitzpatrick

Step 2: Got to the quarterback

Watt was so quick with it that Davis couldn’t stop his feet to try to recover and step back. Instead, Davis could only manage to try lunge as Watt slipped by him inside, barely making contact with Watt at all. At the very last minute, Dolphins right guard Chris Reed noticed Watt had beaten Davis inside, but with Watt turning on the jets, Reed just couldn’t get over quick enough to help.

Steelers LB T.J. Watt beats Dolphins OT Jesse Davis for a sack

Step 3: Forced and recovered a fumble

Unsatisfied with just getting a sack, Watt made the most of his opportunity and reached with his inside (right) hand first for Fitzpatrick’s jersey, then for the ball. Watt snatched the football right out of Fitzpatrick’s hands and took him to the ground. Watt ended up flipping over with the ball securely in his hands, and it all happened so quickly that it took a second for it to register with the refs what had just happened.

Steelers LB T.J. Watt rips the ball away from Dolphins QB Ryan Fitzpatrick

In the blink of an eye, Watt had forced a turnover and nipped that Fitzmagic in the bud.

Steelers LB T.J. Watt sacks, forces a fumble of Dolphins QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, and recovers the fumble

The Steelers’ offense took over from the Dolphins’ 22-yard line and went on to extend their lead to 17 points by making field goal. That was definitely the kind of play, both in terms of skill needed to make it and impact, that you would expect a Pro Bowl-type player to make.

T.J. Watt could find himself in the Defensive Player of the Year race

Well, my daydream of two sets of brothers making the Pro Bowl may be over after J.J.’s injury, but don’t be surprised if T.J. Watt not only still makes it, but also jumps into the Defensive Player of the Year discussion by the end of the season, too. His two sacks in Week 8 gave him six for the season, which is just off the seven that both of the Bosa brothers have now.

With Ben Roethlisberger out for the year, if the 3-4 Steelers some how manage to claw their way back into the playoff hunt, you can bet that T.J. will have been a big part of that effort. Even if they don’t make the playoffs, there is a very good chance that T.J. will still go on to have the kind of monster year that would make him hard to ignore in any DPOY conversation.

It is a shame that it might have taken another injury to his brother for T.J. to escape from his shadow, considering how well T.J. has played in his own right since being drafted in 2017. But if it is the case that you hadn’t been paying much attention to T.J. until now, this is the perfect time to get familiar because that guy is a friggin’ beast on the field.

Yes, T.J. isn’t quite on J.J.’s level, but he is a damn good player, nonetheless. He’s the real deal, not just a dude riding his big brother’s coattails. Everyone would be wise to recognize that, because it is looking more and more likely that T.J. is going to be kicking ass for a very long time in this league.