As the AFC Wild Card showdown between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Kansas City Chiefs approaches, the focus will inevitably be on the battle between quarterbacks Ben Roethlisberger and Patrick Mahomes.
It’s your classic experience vs. youth contest: the grizzled, gunslinging, two-time Super Bowl winner looking for a last hurrah against one of the NFL’s current faces and crazy cover star aiming to add to his already sizeable reputation by lifting a second Vince Lombardi trophy.
If, however, the Steelers are to send Roethlisberger on a high at SoFi Stadium on February 13 in what many expect to be the 39-year-old’s final season, then many of those hopes could rest on the considerable shoulders of the player. ‘man. voted franchise most valuable player by teammates for the third year in a row.
Trent Jordan Watt – better known as “TJ” – is not only the heart of Pittsburgh’s defensive unit, but has also become one of the most dominant defensive players in the NFL. That was underscored by his tying the single-season sack record in last Sunday’s 16-13 overtime win over the Baltimore Ravens, which helped clinch an unlikely berth for the Ravens. play-offs before the last day of the regular season.
“In summary, it just speaks to his level of dominance and his career in terms of talent and experience, and finding that touchpoint between experience and youth,” the coach said. Steelers leader Mike Tomlin last week, reflecting on Watt once. again honored by his teammates.
“He’s young enough to have the gas to do the things he needs to do. He’s at the peak of his career. He’s gained enough experience to be able to play above the neck and make the critical decisions in situations. that allow him to make those splashes that you think of when you think of him.
“And his teammates just recognize that we’re talking about a guy who a few years ago was third in the [NFL] Defensive Player of the Year vote; last year he was second in the vote, and this year he is the favorite.
“And so, from a team perspective, that obviously puts him in a position to potentially be the MVP, and his teammates are saying the obvious.”
Watt’s accomplishment in hitting 22.5 sacks when he knocked down Ravens quarterback Tyler Huntley in the second quarter last Sunday tied the record set by former New York Giants defensive end Michael Strahan in 2001 – and he might well have beaten it in the first quarter hit on Huntley was not ruled a forced fumble.
To put that in some kind of context, even the great Lawrence Taylor, the only linebacker to be named NFL MVP, never sacked more than 20.5 sacks in a season and that happened in 1986 when the The Giants’ groundbreaking icon was the best in the league. player.
It’s no surprise that with older brother JJ, the Arizona Cardinals defensive end and two-time NFL single-season sack leader battling to be fit for their NFC Wild Card showdown with the Los Angeles Rams, Pittsburgh Watt is an opponent. the league’s quarterbacks are always wary.
TJ is not only special, but in terms of how he can bend to get to the quarterback, but also how hard he plays.
Patrick Mahomes on the danger posed by TJ Watt
Indeed, even though he – along with Minnesota Vikings caller Kirk Cousins – has been sacked the fewest times (28) of any other regular starting quarterback this season, Chiefs star Mahomes is well aware which the 27-year-old will shoot for him at Arrowhead Stadium in the early hours of Monday morning UK time.
“He’s a special player,” Mahomes said. “I mean, I don’t know what’s going on in this family, but they have great football players there and you said it; TJ is not only special, but in terms of how which he can bend to get to quarterback, but the effort with which he plays.
“They got a lot of guys like that out there, Cam Heyward, [Alex] High blacksmith. I mean they have a lot of guys who play hard all game and they play continuously and come and go. So for me, it’s about every time I make those long extended plays, not about making a bad play.
“These guys will kind of be around me all the time after the game, so when I rush in and get in the pocket when things aren’t there, I have to make sure I matter to them because ‘ they’re not going to give up the game.”
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Mahomes and the Chiefs will head into the showdown buoyed by the fact that they already beat the Steelers on Dec. 26, with a 36-10 win that kept Andy Reid’s side on the line. on course for a sixth straight AFC West title.
Still, Watt’s influence extends beyond what he does on the gridiron and Tomlin hopes the work his defensive leader does to help and push his teammates to improve will also be on the spotlight.
“I’m not going to pretend it’s warm and fuzzy,” Tomlin said. “I’m speaking in a very technical way – ‘Hey, read the position; Hey, when this guy’s feet are parallel, that’s what you get; Hey, you need to recognize this formation.
“‘Hey, does the tight end helmet break the size of the tackle? Or is he completely off the ball? If he’s completely off the ball, you have to be mindful that he can potentially go behind the line of scrimmage at the time of the snap to the other outside linebacker”.
January 17, 2022, 1:00 a.m.
“I mean, it’s strictly football, it’s very clinical, but that’s just his approach. It’s not absurd. That’s how he frames.”
A no-frills approach, so it’s fair to say, off the pitch as well as on this one. Time will tell if that can help Pittsburgh dash Kansas City’s dreams of making the Super Bowl for the third straight year.
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