J.J. Watt Surprised T.J. Watt Played Nearly Every Snap, Says Pass Rushers Typically Have Planned Rests
Throughout his career, Pittsburgh Steelers’ star outside linebacker T.J. Watt typically hovers around the 70-80% snap count mark defensively.
The Steelers like to try and keep him fresh for late in games, and late in seasons.
Yet on Sunday against the Green Bay Packers, Watt played a career-high 97.1% of the snaps, marking two straight weeks he played 93% of the snaps or higher defensively for the Steelers after playing 93.2% of snaps in Week Nine on Thursday Night Football against the Tennessee Titans. Watt has played 97% of the snaps in a game multiple times in his career but has not played that high of a percentage of snaps since Dec. 23, 2018, against the New Orleans Saints.
Those two snap count percentages are dramatic increases from what Watt has seen earlier in the season, never playing more than 87.3% of the snaps (Week Four at Houston).
In fact, in the 96 career games Watt has played thus far in the NFL, he’s cracked the 90% snap count percentage just 28 times. The last time he hit more than 90% of snaps in a game prior to the last two weeks was in 2021 when the Steelers hosted the Chicago Bears on Monday Night Football. He played 90% of snaps in the game.
Seeing him play 97% of the snaps against the Packers at home was rather surprising for older brother and now NFL on CBS analyst J.J. Watt. Appearing on the Pat McAfee Show Wednesday on ESPN, Watt stated that typically pass rushers have planned rest periods and that the Watts like to get the third series of each half to get a blow, but that didn’t happen on Sunday for T.J. Watt.
“No, it’s one of those things where you kind of, as a pass rusher, you generally have an idea going into the game when you’re gonna take your breaks or when it’s gonna be. And I know for a lot of past rushers, for myself and for T.J. for a long time, it’s been generally the third series of each half,” J.J. Watt said on the McAfee Show, according to video via the Pat McAfee Show YouTube page. “That was my always my thing. Third series of each half, you’re gonna sit out the start of it and then you’ll go in on the third down and you’ll kind of get back into it that way.
“And then throughout the rest of the drive, if the drive goes longer than let’s say five or six plays, generally for me, it was about six plays. Like after six plays, you’re pretty much…you’re not gonna be able to give everything you can possibly give. So you might want to get out at that point.”
That break didn’t happen for Watt against the Packers. He was out there for all but two snaps against the Packers, playing 66 snaps in total out of a possible 68. Fellow outside linebacker Alex Highsmith played 63 snaps, leaving just five snaps for veteran outside linebacker Markus Golden and two snaps for rookie outside linebacker Nick Herbig.
It ultimately worked out for the Steelers as Watt tied for the team lead in tackles with eight and had a key sack in the win, surpassing J.J. for second all-time in sacks in a player’s first 100 career games with 88.0. But, the snap count for the last two weeks for Watt is a bit concerning, especially as the Steelers enter the stretch drive.
The whole point of adding a guy like Golden and drafting a piece like Herbig was to solidify depth and keep Watt and Highsmith healthy. So far, Golden and Herbig have proven more than capable. So, the decision to not rotate like they had earlier in the season in the last two weeks is concerning.
We’ll see if it was a matchup-based thing, or the norm, moving forward. But what Watt did on Sunday was not typical of his workload historically.