In a relatively quick turnaround, the Steelers head south to NRG Stadium to take on the Houston Texans. In the land of Texas barbeque and "all things in Texas are bigger," this week's Classic Jurassic Meat-Eater Matchup takes a look at one of the battles that might turn out to be the key to victory.
This week's Meat-Eater is the younger brother of a man whom the Texans are about to induct into their Ring of Honor during the game this weekend. That man of course, is JJ Watt, a future Hall of Fame, apex predator in his own right. TJ Watt, however, stands in nobody's shadow, not even that of his extraordinary big brother.
The AFC Defensive Player of the Month for September, Watt has put together one of the more dominating three-game streaks of defensive excellence in a long time. He has 12 quarterback hits, 5 tackles for loss, 6 sacks, 11 tackles, 2 passes broken up and 2 forced fumbles to go along with 2 fumble recoveries. That's enough results for a couple of months of work. Yet Watt accumulated that in only three weeks. Just think what kind of month he would have had if he had a full month of play to his credit.
We might have an inkling, but I think Texans head coach Demeco Ryans does too.
"Watt is probably the most impactful defensive player in the league right now," Ryans said this week. "Leading the league in sacks and pressures. When you have one guy who can pressure and disrupt the quarterback, it just changes the entire scheme of things defensively. You don't have to blitz as much because you have a guy like TJ Watt."
Ryans knows this is a tough matchup for him. Especially when he's looking at a matchup that might be less than ideal. The Texans top two left tackles (Laremy Tunsil and Josh Jones) are injured, as is their starting right tackle (Tytus Howard). That leaves practice squad tackles and two-year veteran Austin Deculus and six-year vet Geron Christian available for duty.
The starter on the right side, George Fant, is a 6-5, 322-pound eight-year veteran. He has solid experience at the blindside left tackle spot. So normally one might assume that the Texans would just move Fant over to the left tackle spot and bring up one of the P-squad tackles on the right side. However, making two moves to replace one guy is normally a no-go.
And truthfully told, would you want to promote one of the practice squad tackles to starter status when he has to line up against TJ Watt? That doesn't seem logical. Besides, the guy on the other side, Alex Highsmith, brings his own nightmarish pass rushing skill set. So it seems Fant will stay put and most likely will be locking horns with Watt.
Watt has a wide variety of pass rushing skills. Unlike the typical speed-to-power rush so widely used in the NFL, Watt excels in a number of different techniques. The bull rush, the one-arm stab, the infamous ghost move, or maybe throw in a few hand traps, hand trap-to-swipes, etc. The list goes on. We're not even talking about the garden variety uppercut and swim move, which he also uses. Watt is a veritable encyclopedia of 21st century pass rushing skills.
Not only that, Watt has a high football IQ, is skilled in watching the quarterback's eyes, knowing down and distance, personnel groupings and setting himself up at times in throwing lanes. That allows him to deflect and intercept passes.
He's always ball aware wherever that football may be. His strip-sack skills are to be feared. Watt always is a factor to be accounted for, be it run or pass.
For the Steelers to be In the hunt for a win, Watt has to be on the hunt, period. They are 58-27-2 with Watt in the lineup, and 1-10 when he's not. For sure, whoever draws Watt duty this week will have his hands full. And it may well be the key to a Steelers victory.