Steelers’ T.J. Watt has so much more to accomplish

T.J. Watt, dream Steeler for a dream football town, vowed his hunger would never wane on the day he signed his four-year, $112 million contract extension, with $80 million guaranteed, days before Pittsburgh’s season opener. 

And now, Watt’s next after 17.5 sacks? Michael Strahan’s single-season sack record (22.5), that’s Watt. 

Serby Says asked Watt why he has been able to fight off any hint of complacency. 

“It’s kind of in my DNA. It’s not the type of person that I am, there’s still so much that I want to accomplish,” Watt said. “We haven’t gotten close to the Super Bowl since I’ve been here, so I think that’s obviously the No. 1 goal. You only get so many years, good years, to play at this level, and that’s kind of what I’m trying to capture and take advantage of while I have it, ’cause I know that if I didn’t give it everything I had I would regret it when I can’t do the things I can do now.” 

Asked what he remembers about Strahan, Watt chuckled: “Besides the gap in the teeth? 

“To be honest with you, I haven’t watched a ton of his film, but obviously I know that 22  ¹/₂ sacks is a helluva lot to have in 16 games.” 

Watt has missed two games this season with a groin injury, so he would have to break the record in 15 games. 

“It would be cool, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not something that I’m consciously thinking about,” he said. “All those goals I had earlier in my career, and I realized that it just puts unnecessary pressure on yourself, and then you find yourself in games, a couple of games into the season you’re not anywhere close to be on pace, then you start to try to do too much and then you start hurting yourself and your team, so I’m just trying to impact every game the best that I possibly can, to play the best that I can for my team. A record like that would be cool, but I also think I’d take a Super Bowl any day over that.” 

T.J. Watt's primary goal with the Steelers is to reach the Super Bowl.
T.J. Watt’s primary goal with the Steelers is to reach the Super Bowl.

It is ironic when Watt — little brother of the Cardinals’ J.J. and Steelers teammate/fullback Derek — names Brett Favre as the one quarterback he would love to have sacked, because it was Favre who took the dive that enabled Strahan to break Mark Gastineau’s all-time sack record. 

“I think just growing up in Green Bay, I think that’d be one that no one would be able to stop telling stories about just ’cause of how big he was growing up and how much everybody in the state of Wisconsin looked up to him.” 

Reminded it was chronicled that Favre took a dive, Watt said, and laughed: “I wasn’t gonna bring it up! No, I haven’t even seen that play, but I definitely heard the story many times.” 

Asked how he would feel if he broke the record in that fashion, Watt said, “I gotta get a couple more sacks before I even get close to it, so I’ll leave it up for whoever wants to say.” 

Watt, who will take aim at Patrick Mahomes on Sunday in a game the Steelers must win to keep their playoff hopes alive, has 67 sacks in 74 career games. And remember, he started as a tight end at Wisconsin. 

“I didn’t grow up watching a lot of pass rushers, I just kind of grew up watching my brother [J.J.] play,” Watt said. “I think that’s kind of why we have some very similar moves.” 

Biggest brother is 50 or so pounds heavier than li’l brother. 

“He’s a lot bigger than me, so he has like a better bull rush, a lot of his rushes are based off of the power, whereas I’m more of a speed rusher,” T.J. said. “His double swipe we both use, that’s one that I took from him. He’s got a really good long-arm stab. The cross chop, and that’s even funny ’cause now he’s trying to evolve too, so he was asking me questions about the cross chop which is kinda my specialty rush.” 

T.J. Watt has evolved as well into more of a student of the game. 

“He’s a very aware player,” T.J. said of his big brother. “The more that I realize that he’s studying formations and things that you can expect to see, and certain runs that they like to run out of certain formations that they’re in and certain tells, I’m kind of growing into that role where early on in my career I was more of an instinctual-only player.” 

J.J. Watt recorded 20.5 sacks in 2012 and 2014 with the Texans. 

“The dominance was so regular that I always joked to people like if he didn’t have a sack in a game I’d always like, ‘What the hell happened? What went wrong there?’ ” T.J. said. “The amount of plays he was making on a regular basis is pretty insane, now that I have a different perspective being in the NFL.” 

T.J. Watt sacks Lamar Jackson during the Steelers' 20-19 win over the Ravens.
T.J. Watt sacks Lamar Jackson during the Steelers’ 20-19 win over the Ravens.

It is almost as if T.J. is in a zone at times. 

“I think it’s more of a mentality than a zone,” he said. “I don’t think you can really get out of a zone if you have the right mentality. I truly think that you can stay in your zone. I don’t think that you’re always gonna get the results that you want just ’cause sacks are so hard to come by, but I think you can consistently beat the guy if you’re putting in the time and the effort, and you have the confidence. I think that’s the biggest thing I’d to be confident as well.” 

T.J. Watt was the 30th pick of the 2017 draft. He has forced 21 fumbles mastering the art of the strip-sack. He has added four interceptions. He likely will be first-team All-Pro for the third consecutive season. He should be Defensive Player of the Year this season. Former Giants general manager Jerry Reese drafted tight end Evan Engram with the 23rd pick in that 2017 draft. 

“I have been doubted my whole life as far as only getting a scholarship ’cause of my brothers and all that stuff, and obviously I’ve lived in the shadows of both J.J. and Derek for pretty much the majority of my life,” T.J. said. “I’ve done a good job of blocking a lot of that stuff out and just using it as a tool to ask those guys as many questions as possible. Just to see how hard those guys work is really what kinda sparked me. I remember being in college and going to class and my brothers would text me that they were going to workout and they didn’t have to go to class, go to school, and I just thought that would be the best job to ever have in the world, and now I’m living it as well, and to be able to work alongside those guys and to have the blueprint of how to get in the NFL, how to be successful, was a great tool for me growing up.” 

T.J. Watt followed in his brother J.J.'s footsteps and played collegiately at Wisconsin.
T.J. Watt followed in his brother J.J.’s footsteps and played collegiately at Wisconsin.

As the Steelers’ left outside linebacker, quarterbacks and running backs have learned the hard way that you can never be too secure with the football around T.J. Watt. 

“I rush on the left side of the football, so I can always see where the quarterback’s looking and where the football is, so as you’re rushing the passer and turning the corner against a tackle, the ball is always in sight,” he said, “and I think it’s very important to secure the tackle with the off hand, and then the other hand can always strike down on the football. A lot of those quarterbacks are always looking downfield so not securing the ball very tightly. So just trying to take a good swipe at it, and if you get the ball out it’s a bonus.” 

T.J. Watt is just 27 years old. Given his commitment and character, you have to believe his best is yet to come. 

“Growing up, my dad always said you have to have the impact to be a great player,” T.J. said. “It took me a while to find that impact, but I finally found it. If you go into a game knowing that no one’s prepared like you have, it’s a very big advantage mentally and physically, and you just kinda let your body take over, and the aggression definitely comes out.” 

He would have fit right in with “Mean” Joe Greene and Jack Lambert and those Steel Curtain Steelers. 

“I just think it’s a perfect fit, from everything on the field to off the field,” T.J. said. “These people are blue-collar, they take a lot of pride in all of their sports teams. Every sports team is black and yellow, so that’s all you see across the whole city. Whenever I’m out in public, nobody’s bothering me, everybody’s super-respectful. Just genuine people, they’re just the working-class people, how can you not get along with everybody? I didn’t come from a high-class family, I didn’t come from a low-class family. These are all my type of people, and I think it’s why it’s such a great fit.” 

And he is their type of Steeler. 

“I always tell people it’s somebody that’s very gritty and very selfless,” T.J. said. “You gotta have that switch that you have to flip when you’re on the football field, but they’re always around the football, they’re a great member in the community. It’s very important to be in the community here especially playing for the owners like Mr. [Art] Rooney [II] and just how they conduct themselves in and out of the facility in the community. It’s a special place to play football.” 

T.J. Watt
T.J. Watt

He desperately yearns to return to Heinz Field on Jan. 3 against the Browns with everything still on the line in front of those Terrible Towel-waving fans. 

“You truly get the chills,” T.J. said. “On some of those third downs you line up in your stance and you can kind of just tell yourself like, ‘Here we go, I can just tell this is gonna be a monster play.’ It’s just such a cool place to play.” 

Dream Steeler for a dream town. 

“Now I think it’s just a matter of wanting to leave my mark on this game, wanting to leave my mark in Pittsburgh,” T.J. Watt said. “I know that it’s possible to be one of the best players to play, ’cause one of ’em came from the same family that I came from. 

“So why can’t I be that too?” 

Steel Certain. That’s Watt he is.