FOXBORO, Mass. -- The New England Patriots will be forced to slow down several of the NFL’s best pass rushers this season, but few of these players will pose the type of challenge T.J. Watt presents.
Blocking the the Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker will be a top priority for the Patriots offensive line when these teams square off Sunday night at Gillette Stadium in their 2019 regular season opener.
What exactly makes Watt so difficult to block? Patriots head coach Bill Belichick listed several reasons in his Friday press conference.
"Pretty much everything," Belichick said. "He's fast. He's explosive. He's strong but he's quick. He can avoid players. Plays with good leverage. He's quick enough to move around guys and he's powerful enough to play through them. He has a good skill set. He's a very instinctive a player. He's a good pass rusher, has a high motor, comes hard on every play. He does a lot of things well. One of the best guys we'll face all year."
Watt tallied 68 total tackles, three passes defensed and a career-high 13 sacks last season. He was the best pass rusher on a Steelers defense that tied for the league lead with 52 sacks. In fact, Watt is one of just three players (Khalil Mack and Aaron Donald are the other two) with 20-plus sacks and seven or more forced fumbles since the start of the 2017 campaign.
The Patriots offensive line ranks among the best units in the league, according to Pro Football Focus, and it gave up just 21 sacks in 2018. The group took its performance to another level in the playoffs, allowing only one sack en route to a Super Bowl LIII championship.
Watt did have a pretty good game against the Patriots when these rivals played in Pittsburgh for a Week 15 matchup last season. The University of Wisconsin product tallied three tackles (one for a loss), one sack and three QB hits on Brady. The Steelers defense frustrated Brady and the Patriots offense all game, and Pittsburgh ultimately emerged with a 17-10 victory.
The Patriots will need to do a better job slowing down Watt if Brady is going to have ample time to pick apart a Steelers secondary that isn't as healthy or talented as it was in last season's matchup.
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