Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt is one sack away from the NFL’s single-season sack record entering the final week of the 2021 season.
The Baltimore Ravens know it.
Watt enters the game with Baltimore at 21.5 sacks, one off Michael Strahan’s NFL record. He’s just the fifth player in NFL history to record more than 20 sacks in a season.
Every team has done pretty much everything they can to shut Watt down this season, but Baltimore certainly doesn’t want to the be the club that Watt sets the record against.
“Yes, that’s a challenge,” Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman said on Thursday. “I think everybody has had special plans for him going into the game. That’s a fact, really. And you better, because if you don’t, he’s really going to eat you up. I think, what, he had four sacks the other night? So, we’re definitely going to pay special attention to him. He’s a very, very productive player.”
Part of the problem, Roman said, is that it’s hard to come up with something that Watt can’t beat.
“He plays hard, knows how to play the game, knows angles [and] knows how to create angles,” Roman said. “He has a really good move set with his hands, really good head fakes, et cetera. He’s just a really talented, good football player that is having an amazing season.”
And you can pretty much forget coming up with something that Watt hasn’t seen
“I pretty much have seen the tight end chips, the running back chips, the tight end and running back chips, the slides, everything,” Watt said. “I don’t know if there’s anything that really sticks out. I just feel like I’ve seen a good amount of everything.”
In fact, Watt says that has been one of the keys to his career-best 2021. Despite being held back by multiple injuries, he feels like he’s upped his game on the mental side of things, especially when it comes to special attention from offenses.
“I’m still trying to develop plans on how to attack certain things, but I’ve definitely gotten a better feel for it,” Watt said. “Last year and years past, if I were to get double teams and chips, I didn’t quite know how to handle it.”
The final piece of the puzzle for the Steelers’ pass rush is that you can’t just focus on Watt.
“I have such great teammates that are always willing to help me,” Watt said. “Whether it’s a d-lineman trying to pick with me or running a certain stunt, the guys on the back end making the quarterback hold onto the ball for just a second.”
“[Alex Highsmith], on the other edge, he’s really improving as a pass rusher, and Cam Heyward is always a force to be reckoned with,” Roman said. “We have our work cut out for us, but we’re definitely going to pay some special attention to him.”
Stopping Watt isn’t easy for anyone, and he has nine career sacks in nine games against Baltimore. But at the very least, he can be sure that breaking Strahan’s record won’t be as easy as it was for the New York Giants lineman to set it. Strahan infamously broke the record when Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre made an ill-fated play-action fake and turned directly into an unblocked Strahan, falling at his feet in a move that some think may have been intentional to get Strahan the record.
Whether they can stop him or not is to be determined, but you can be sure the Ravens won’t be going out of their way to help Watt break the record in their stadium.