The Steelers victory over the Browns on Monday Night Football was the essence of an “ugly win.” Anytime your defense scores more touchdowns than your offense, you know it ain’t pretty.
- But Steelers History passed a critical milestone at Acrisure Stadium.
T.J. Watt became the Pittsburgh Steelers all-time sack leader.
Let’s repeat: T.J. Watt became the Pittsburgh Steelers all-time sack leader. Let that sink in for a moment. We’re not talking about the Houston Texas, or the Los Angeles-Anaheim-St. Louis-Los Angles Rams.
We are talking about the Pittsburgh Steelers.
This is the franchise that has defined defensive excellence for three generations. This is the franchise that gave us the Steel Curtain and a generation later gave is Blitzburgh. This same franchise who had a member of their defense set the record for the longest run in Super Bowl history.
The Steelers were the first, and only, football team to have its defensive line featured on the cover of Time Magazine, back when that meant something.
Effective defense in the NFL goes way beyond getting after the quarterback, but you’d be wise to start there.
So just how does T.J. Watt’s accomplishment stack up in terms of the Steelers larger legacy? Let’s take a look:
Before diving into the stat sheet above, let’s offer a big shout out to my friend and staff writer Tony Defeo. When the Steelers cut Woodley, Defeo put his accomplishments in context by calling out how Woodley had led the Steelers in sacks per game.
The totals above include Woodley’s full body of work, but if you look at Woodley’s career from his debut to the 2011 win against the Patriots, he averaged 0.8 sacks per game.
- That was an incredible accomplishment, but Watt is beating him by a mile.
What else can we learn from this?
First, the numbers reveal how the modern game has evolved. While each member of the original Steel Curtain makes this list, only Holmes is in the top half. Dwight White, L.C. Greenwood and Joe Greene are in the middle. Jack Lambert and Jack Ham aren’t anywhere to be seen, with Andy Russell only eking his way in at the bottom.
Bud Carson and George Perles’ defense didn’t need to blitz often because the NFL didn’t handcuff its defensive backs before the Mel Blount Rule.
Second, you can see the difference between great Steelers pass rushers and those who were truly special. The great ones sacked the quarterback somewhere between 40 and 50% of the games. Get beyond that, and you’re truly at an elite level.
Fourth, there’s an additional metric for differentiating players on this list, and that’s players with forced fumbles. Sacking the quarterback is critical, but so much more meaningful if you can knock the ball out while doing it. (Just ask Alex Highsmith and Deshaun Watson.)
Unfortunately data isn’t available for members of the original Steel Curtain or 1980’s stalwart Keith Willis. But it does show us that players like Jason Gildon and even Lamarr Woodley weren’t as dynamic, while driving home the fact that guys like Greg Lloyd and James Harrison had innate playmaking ability.
Finally, and not surprisingly, T.J. Watt leads the field here too – by a mile. This guy sacks the quarterback in almost every game and causes a forced fumble in just under 1/3 of his games.
My take away? Man, I’m glad T.J. Watt is a Pittsburgh Steeler.