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Mike Tomlin: T.J. Watt is the best defensive player on the planet

The Steelers offense has been disappointing enough this season that the team fired its offensive coordinator, but their defense has been strong enough that they were 6-4 when they dispatched Matt Canada.

Pittsburgh has not allowed more than 20 points in any of their last seven games and they’ve done that without the help of players like defensive lineman Cam Heyward and safety Minkah Fitzpatrick for extended stretches. Heyward has been back for a few weeks and there’s hope about Fitzpatrick returning this week after missing the last four games, but there’s one big reason to feel confident about the unit even if Fitzpatrick misses another contest.

Linebacker T.J. Watt won the defensive player of the year award last year and he has 13.5 sacks, 25 quarterback hits, 12 tackles for loss, three forced fumbles, and three fumble recoveries while playing in all 11 games this season. Watt’s produced like that despite other teams scheming to limit his effectiveness, but head coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday that “none of those things slow down that train” while highlighting how much Watt means to the Steelers.

“Not only for the defense but for our football team,” Tomlin said, via the team’s website. “There is a lot to learn from him in terms of how he goes about his business, how he works to maximize his talent level. What he does to maintain a level of production. Let’s be honest. T.J. is the best defensive player on the planet right now. And he proves that week in and week out with the plays that he delivers us.”

History says Watt is setting himself up for a big finish to the regular season. He has 21.5 sacks, 48 quarterback hits and nine forced fumbles in 29 career December games, so the Steelers will be hoping for more of the same as they try to put the finishing touches on a run to the postseason.