Courtesy of Warrior Alpaca Socks

Carter’s Classroom: Why Watt is NFL’s DPOY

But Watt had several moments during the Steelers’ season that kept his team alive in the playoff hunt. As their defense rose to give up the sixth fewest points in the NFL, while leading the league in forced turnovers and sacks, Watt played a pivotal role almost every week.

T.J. Watt - MATT SUNDAY / DKPS

When I predicted that T.J. Watt would be the Steelers’ 2019 MVP last June, I did so because I saw his trajectory vaulting him to be the team’s best player. But I didn’t see him reaching the level that could earn national honors for the best defensive player in the NFL.

Not when the likes of Aaron Donald and Khalil Mack were each coming off insanely good seasons with little signs that they would slow down.

But Watt passed those guys as far as performance in 2019 and being a game-changer. He also was joined by other worthy candidates that had more sacks, but weren’t more deserving of the NFL’s defensive player of the year award.

Here’s the case for Watt:

Watt’s main competition splits between a small group of players. The Patriots’ cornerback Stephon Gilmore was the NFL’s best cornerback of 2019, recording six interceptions and never giving up a touchdown. Shaquil Barrett led the NFL with 19.5 sacks while Chandler Jones was right behind him with 19.

But what sets Watt apart was how pivotal he was for the Steelers’ defense. Neither Barrett’s Buccaneers nor Jones’ Cardinals were good defenses this season as the former ranked 29th in points allowed and the latter ranked 28th. They were overachievers on bad defenses that shone brightly on a roster lacking a balanced defense.

Even with that, Watt’s overall production makes the argument to negate their advantage in sack production. Watt’s eight passes defensed, two interceptions, eight fumbles forced and four recovered are all the most among the NFL’s two leading sack men.

When totaling the amount of impact plays, that being tackles, interceptions, passes defensed, fumbles forced or recovered, tackles for loss, sacks and quarterback hits, Watt is right with them. He has 141.5 impact plays compared to Jones’ 125 and Barrett’s 142.5.

But Watt had several moments during the Steelers’ season that kept his team alive in the playoff hunt. As their defense rose to give up the sixth fewest points in the NFL, while leading the league in forced turnovers and sacks, Watt played a pivotal role almost every week.

Any time an offense didn’t key on stopping Watt, he found a way to disrupt a play. Here’s an example when the Bengals tried to use tight end C.J. Uzomah alone and it didn’t work. Watt used his inside hand to anchor his path to Andy Dalton and end the play:

Barrett led the NFL in quarterback hits with 37 along with the Packers’ edge rusher Za’Darius Smith, but Watt was right behind both with 36.

But even when Watt wasn’t the player hitting the quarterback, he was forcing quarterbacks to leave their launch points and creating opportunities for others. Watch how his rush forced Sam Darnold to leave his pocket and run right into a waiting Vince Williams. Darnold forced a bad pass that was almost intercepted by Cameron Sutton over the middle:

But what sets Watt apart from everyone else in this race has been his knack for finding the football and causing turnovers. The Steelers led the NFL with 38 turnovers and Watt accounted for eight forced fumbles, four recovered and two interceptions.

He was on a serious tear by midseason to get the football for his team once it was obvious the Steelers’ offense was never going to be good. Watch the layers that went into his strip sack of Ryan Fitzpatrick. He sets up tackle Jesse Davis with a great burst off the line to force him to honor his outside shoulder. He then uses a quick swim move to cross his face to the inside gap for a clear shot at Fitzpatrick.

But even after all that, Watt goes right for the football, pulling it out and recovering it himself:

Watt may not have the most sacks, but he was the biggest factor on the sixth best defense of 2019. That should give him a leg up on Barrett and Jones as neither were a key cog on a defense that drew national attention throughout the season.

But that brings up Gilmore as a legitimate contender, as the Patriots were the NFL’s top defense allowing only 225 points and he didn’t contribute to a single one. But Gilmore looked rough in the Patriots’ regular season finale where they lost to the Dolphins at home and blew their shot at a bye week in the playoffs.

And with the Patriots’ loss to the Titans on wild card weekend, all the top candidates for defensive player of the year are out of contention with finished resumes on the season.

But what could put Watt over the top for AP voters might be how consistent he was in production all season. After the week one loss to the Patriots, Watt either registered sack, a forced fumble or an interception in each of the fifteen games for the rest of the season.

Dale Lolley couldn’t have been more right when he wrote that Watt’s price was about to skyrocket. He was the leagues’ biggest defensive game changer all season and was often the biggest factor that led to their wins or kept them close enough to compete in their losses.

Take a step back and look at that, and he has the best case for NFL defensive player of the year.

MORE CLASSROOM

Jan. 6: 2019 Tackle Awards
Jan. 3: Johnson’s next steps
Jan. 2: Nelson fits like a glove
Dec. 31: Bud wasn’t just on a tear

17 Comments

17
Join the discussion

9 Comment threads
8 Thread replies
2 Followers
 
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
13 Comment authors
MarinburghFLburgherRobert ForestadavidburttUngy Recent comment authors
  Follow Discussion  
Newest Oldest Most voted
Notify of:
SteveKea
SteveKea

Great arguments. I happen to agree 100% that Watt should be DPOY. That said, I think the candidates on bad teams have an argument as well. Given the fact that their defenses were so bad, their offensive opponents could focus on eliminating their impact, yet they still shined.

On a side note, I heard the NFL players voted Gilmore as their NFL Defensive MVP. Do you think this will have a negative impact on Watt’s chances or is that just a popularity contest?

georgejefferson
georgejefferson

Sporting news did vote Gilmore as the NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Sporting News chose Calais Campbell as DPOY in 2017 and the Associated Press chose Aaron Donald. The fact that New England made the playoffs is what could keep Watt from bringing home the trophy

DrDeep
DrDeep

Top notch.
If I have one criticism, I wish this could be on a National talk show.

georgejefferson
georgejefferson

Stephon Gilmore gave up 1 TD this season to John Brown. Gilmore was beat on a 53 yard reception from Josh Allen. Tre’Davious White is the only cornerback not to give up a TD. in my opinion he had a better year than Gilmore forcing 2 fumbles and 1 sack in the regular season to Gilmore’s 0 sacks and 0 forced fumbles. In addition Tre White forced a fumble in Buffalo’s Divisional Loss. Gilmore was basically non existent in New England’s divisional loss to the Titans with 0 pd, 0 int, and 0 ff. Anthony Harris and Logan Ryan had exceptional playoff weeks. I would rank Gilmore’s performance in the playoffs well behind Anthony Harris, Logan Ryan, and Tre’Davious White. This is why T.J. Watt should be DPOY and not Gilmore.

bblove83
bblove83

Mainstream media seemed to anointed Gilmore but agree it should be Watt since he disrupts games more than a CB

Sudesh Prasad
Sudesh Prasad

I couldn’t agree more, Chris. I’m looking forward to the future with him, and this D.

Thank you!

rk98
rk98

He needs a catchy nickname to put him over the top – KiloWatt!

Ungy
Ungy

MegaWatt!!

davidburtt
davidburtt

GigaWatt.

davidburtt
davidburtt

KleptoWatt.

terrymelon
terrymelon

Agree with you Matt. Watt was the best player on the Steelers team this year and the best defensive player in football. Pay the man and keep him here. I wonder what will happen to Bud the Dud. Love to see him get a nice contract, but one year of seeing him play great, I just don’t know.

terrymelon
terrymelon

Mistake on the name, Chris.

FLburgher
FLburgher

Bud will be signed. All the Steelers brash have made it a point to say signing him is their priority

mctallica1
mctallica1

Man….I love this feature!

Always informative.

Thank you!
T

Marinburgh
Marinburgh

Absolutely agree with mctallica. The first thing I do when I go to the site- at least once the Steelers camp kicks off – is go to Chris’s column. How I miss the War room.

Datruck31
Datruck31

You have a sponser! Whooohooo! This is one of the best features on this site. Really appreciate the way you break it down.

FLburgher
FLburgher

Agreed