NFL bull market benefits TJ Watt and other passer

If an NFL team doesn’t have a quarterback of the caliber of Tom Brady or Patrick Mahomes, one of the best ways to stay competitive is to stock up on smugglers so their defense can send their opponents back into submission. . On the flip side, if a team is fortunate enough to employ an elite quarterback, their best chance of winning the Super Bowl is to increase their passing rush to neutralize their counterpart.

From this perspective, the NFL is not so much a quarterback-led league as it is a quarterback disruption league, with teams caught in an ever-growing arms race to generate as much passing pressure as they do. possible.

Last week, the Pittsburgh Steelers illustrated how valuable the sack specialists have become by signing TJ Watt for a four-year contract extension with a declared $ 80 million guaranteed. Only four players, all quarterbacks, currently earn more Guaranteed Money than Watt; his Steelers teammate Ben Roethlisberger, future Hall of Famer, is not one of them.

Watt rewarded the Steelers by sacking Josh Allen twice and forcing a fumble in Sunday’s 23-16 overturn of the Buffalo Bills, a top Super Bowl contender. With Watt, Cameron Heyward and newcomer Melvin Ingram leading the Pittsburgh pass race, the team were able to put pressure on Allen without a blitz, which kept him from doing much scrambling or challenging the high school. Steelers with deep throws very often.

Watt is the younger brother of JJ Watt, the three-time defensive player of the year who signed with the Arizona Cardinals in March. Elder Watt made a quiet start on Sunday, but his teammate, two-time All-Pro Chandler Jones, sacked Ryan Tannehill five times and forced him to fumble twice, sparking a 38-13 upset from the Titans du Tennessee. The Cardinals haven’t had a winning season since 2015, but the Watt-Jones tandem makes them credible contenders for the playoffs.

Pass rushers are best collected in batches: a Jones or a Watt can be a double team if he is the only threat in the defense. But there are only a limited number of double teams to go through. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers demonstrated this principle in Super Bowl LV when Shaquil Barrett, Jason Pierre-Paul, Ndamukong Suh, Vita Vea and Devin White overwhelmed the injury-ravaged Kansas City Chiefs offensive line, forcing three sacks, two interceptions and a long night of desperate Mahomes scrambles in a 31-9 rout of the Buccaneers.

The NFL is often referred to as a “league of copiers”, but it is more of a “cut and paste Wikipedia term paper” league: Coaches and executives are not very subtle about their plagiarism. Once they saw the Buccaneers treat Mahomes like a tennis ball in a dog park, almost every potential suitor looked to step up their pass rush.

The Bills drafted University of Miami defenseman Gregory Rousseau (15.5 sacks in his last college season) in the first round and Wake Forest defenseman Carlos “Boogie” Basham (20.5 sacks) in the second.

The Titans drew sack specialist Bud Dupree (eight sacks in an injury-cut 2020 season) away from the Steelers, who kept pace by signing Ingram (49 career sacks for the San Diego / Los Angeles Chargers).

The New England Patriots gave a guaranteed $ 32 million to Matt Judon, two-time Pro Bowl defenseman for the Baltimore Ravens, so the Ravens signed veteran Justin Houston (career 97.5 sacks).

The Cleveland Browns added Jadeveon Clowney to a defensive line that already had Myles Garrett, another number. 1 draft pick.

As for the Buccaneers, they pushed the limits of the salary cap economy to keep their pass veterans out of the free agent market, then drafted University of Washington star Joe Tryon-Shoyinka (eight sacks in his last collegiate season) in the first round. The Buccaneers sometimes lined up with six dangerous passer who watched five Dallas Cowboys offensive linemen in Game 1 of the season Thursday.

Dak Prescott was not sacked, but he had an average pitching time of just 2.39 seconds in the Cowboys’ 31-29 loss, according to Next Gen Stats. It’s hard to beat Brady to a duel when he’s forced to treat football like a hot potato.

The rush-pass arms race is driven by supply and demand. A Brady or a Mahomes only arrives once per generation, while the best passer like the Watt brothers or Joey and Nick Bosa (stars respectively for the Chargers and the 49ers of San Francisco) sometimes arrive at two per household. Each year the quarterback class has few members with even the potential to grow into top-level rookies, but the college ranks are teeming with nimble and wicked defenders over 250 pounds ready to join the marauding hordes.

The natural response to all those barbarians at the gate is to build stronger walls. Brady rules his kingdom behind an experienced and well-paid offensive line. The Chiefs spent every cap and draft pick they could muster to make sure Mahomes never had another experience like Super Bowl LV; their rebuilt offensive line passed its first stress test in a 33-29 win over the Browns.

And then there’s Jameis Winston, who inherited both Drew Brees’ seasoned offensive line and strong defense led by passer Cameron Jordan and Marcus Davenport. Once a disappointment prone to interception, Winston miraculously transformed into an effective campaign general, while Aaron Rodgers was driven to frustration (only a short cab ride, in his case) in a 38- eruption. 3 of the New Orleans Saints of the Green Bay Packers.

Old school coaches like to say that defense wins championships and games are won and lost in the trenches. In fact, the days of steel curtains and spooky quartets are long gone. Championships are usually won by elite quarterbacks, but the passing pressure can make those quarterbacks deadly for a few hours.

This is what happened to Brady during the Super Bowls ending the 2007 and 2011 seasons, long before his Buccaneers did the same with Mahomes. If a team can’t win the quarterback lottery, creating a vicious pass rush is an effective and affordable alternative.

Although, based on Watt’s new contract, it may not be so affordable anymore.

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