Week 3 Film Study: TJ Watt Exposes Pass Rush Limitations

After a stellar season debut performance against the Cleveland Browns in week 1, for second-year outside linebacker TJ Watt it has been about finding consistency in his game. On a defensive unit currently ranked on the lower spectrum in total defense, Watt can ill afford to have pedestrian games such as the previous week against the Kansas City Chiefs. In reviewing Monday night’s performance against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Watt was relatively a non-factor in getting pressure on quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. Upon further reviewing his performance, it became apparent that his pass rushing skillset was limited. There is no doubt that Watt puts an honest effort every time he rushes the quarterback; the irony is such, he is seemingly putting too much effort and it is becoming counterproductive.

Bending The Edge

When you think of the most effective pass rushers, many of them possess the ability to bend and flow. Not every pass rusher is born with the natural flexibility to bend, yet it gives an edge rusher an added advantage against an opposing tackle. One of Watt’s noted weaknesses in his draft report was difficulties in this aspect, in other words, he possesses little to no ability to bend. In this sequence, for instance, Watt is positioned on the left side in a two-point stance. To note, he is in 7-technique, which gave him the outer angle to rush. In cases like this, edge rushers with the right type of bend could potentially get inside and get pressure. From the snap, Watt gets a good jump but once he hooks onto the outside shoulder of the tackle, Watt is unable to establish a bend, making it easier for the tackle to get enough leverage to push him off the arc. In Watt’s defense, the Buccaneers halfback on his side either purposely or inadvertently obstructed his progress. Even if that were not the case, Watt does not possess the type of flexibility to adjust.


Pass Rush Stuffed

Watt’s use of hands is perhaps his greatest strength when it comes to pass rushing, yet that at times has its limitation. On this particular play, Watt is again in 7-technique in his two-point stance. Considering there was no halfback on his side, Watt had the ideal path here to perhaps bend and pressure, but watch what the Buccaneers tackle does in this case. When the ball is snapped, the tackle’s first lateral step take away that path; Watt counters by trying to maneuver inside. The Buccaneers tackle does a great job recognizing it while maintaining a good base and eventually rendering Watt ineffective. Had Watt been able to chop the tackle’s inside arm, perhaps he could have made his way inside. I believe that Watt was unsure of what he wanted to do before the ball was snapped, and that had an effect on the outcome.


Chopping Inside

What Watt does in this sequence is similar to what we viewed in the previous clip, yet in this case, Watt was much more decisive. The Buccaneers, in this case, is showing a 5-wide receiver set with trips formation on the right; Watt meanwhile is positioned in 7-technique in a two-point stance. When the ball is snapped, the Buccaneers tackle does a good job covering the outside angle with his first step. Watt, in this case, knew right away what he wanted to do, as he does not allow the tackle to engage before he chops the tackle’s inside arm to make his way inside. To his credit, Watt jumps and comes a few inches from deflecting the pass, as it became evident that he was not going to get to the quarterback on time.  From reviewing this play, a spin maneuver inside could have been just as effective; Watt himself has done quite a few and done so successfully. Creativity in pass rushing can be useful in cases such as this.


With someone like Watt, what you see is what you get. He is a hard-working, gritty and physical pass rusher that does not have a wide arsenal of moves. When it comes to pass rushing, I am a believer that coaching plays a big part in it, not only in teaching new moves but refining the ones they already have. Watt’s production is going to be vital down the stretch; thus Watt needs to be cognizant of his limitations and continue working on improving them in practice.

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