Myles Garrett and T.J. Watt are both ‘one of ones.’ Monday night provides a close-up look at both
PITTSBURGH (AP) — T.J. Watt’s repertoire of pass rush moves runs deep.
Every single twist up the middle or sprint around the edge culled from years of hard work and a perfectionist’s attention to detail, all of it backed by an innate relentlessness that can make the Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker’s No. 90 a black-and-gold blur on his way to the quarterback.
Yet for all of Watt’s unique gifts, what truly separates him is harder to define but impossible to miss.
“TJ finds a way to win,” Cleveland Browns defensive end Myles Garrett said. “He’s a dog.”
Takes one to know one.
Like Watt, Garrett has spent the better part of a decade painting masterpieces in 3-to-5-second bursts.
Like Watt, Garrett serves as an agent of chaos capable of changing the trajectory of a game — or perhaps even a season — on any given snap.
And like Watt, Garrett will walk onto the Acrisure Stadium turf on Monday night when the Browns (1-0) visit the Steelers (0-1) to face an offense that spent an entire week huddled in dark rooms trying to figure out a way to stop him.
“I mean these guys, if you don’t have a plan to minimize them, they’re going to wreck the game,” Steelers center Mason Cole said.
And do it with the kind of swagger special to those whose careers are on a Hall of Fame trajectory.
Yes, that really was Garrett feigning a crossover dribble Allen Iverson-style while standing across the line of scrimmage from Cincinnati center Ted Karras last week.
It’s a move Garrett — a part-time hooper during the offseason — toyed with for years during practice before finally feeling comfortable enough to unleash it during a game.
The play ended with Garrett racing around Karras — beating him to the basket in a way — and chasing Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow into the awaiting arms of teammate Ogbonnia Okoronkwo for a sack that set the tone in what became a dominant 24-3 victory.
The move quickly went viral while simultaneously adding a new wrinkle to Cleveland’s defense and giving opposing offensive linemen yet another thing to worry about when Garrett’s familiar No. 95 is on the other side of the ball.
“Myles, he moves around like a freaking defensive back out there with some of the stuff he’ll do athletically,” Cole said. “Not a lot of guys that can do that. It’s definitely a special talent.”
One the Steelers may be uniquely equipped to stop, mostly because they have a “super freak” of their own on the roster. Watt can be so disruptive at times during practice that it’s not uncommon for Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin to beg someone — anyone — on offense to block Watt effectively so a given play can be executed.
“I think it helps you understand what an impact those guys (like Watt and Garrett) can have on games,” Cole said.
Even if they go about their jobs in slightly different ways. Garrett is a “super freak” as Cole put it, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 draft whose mixture of pedigree and work ethic have made him nearly unblockable one-on-one and helped him rack up 75 1/2 sacks in 85 games.
“He’s truly like one of one,” Steelers left tackle Dan Moore said.
Watt, taken 29 picks after Garrett in 2017, spent his entire childhood trying to escape the shadow of older brothers J.J. and Derek. What he lacked in size or strength growing up he made up for in a tenacity that burns as bright as ever, be it on the field or say, in the team cafeteria.
“It doesn’t matter what it is,” rookie linebacker Nick Herbig said. “If he has to eat one more bagel than you, or has to eat another strawberry, he’s going to win. He’s going to find a way to win.”
Herbig followed in Watt’s footsteps in Wisconsin, where the Watt family is essentially football royalty.
The two initially met at a pro day during Herbig’s sophomore year, Watt essentially taking on a mentor role long before the two ended up teammates.
These days, Watt doesn’t have much choice.
“I’m right there at his hip,” Herbig said. “He’s probably like, ‘This kid won’t get away from me.’”
Watt is occasionally able to give Herbig the slip. Yet Herbig has learned that if he can’t find Watt, it’s because he’s got better things to do.
“You rarely see him sitting at his locker,” Herbig said. “It’s like ‘Where’s TJ at?’ He’s in the weight room, he’s upstairs watching film. He’s always doing something. He’s always staying busy. He’s always staying ready.”
That readiness was on full display in the opener, when Watt took down San Francisco’s Brock Purdy three times to reach 80 1/2 sacks, tied with James Harrison for the most in franchise history. Harrison needed 177 games to get to that total. Watt reached it in 88.
Not that Watt was in the mood to zoom out afterward and think about the history he’s making. The Steelers lost. There are mistakes to correct. Video to study. Tendencies to learn. Excellence to pursue.
That pursuit includes watching Garrett to see what he can glean. Maybe it’s how Garrett uses his hands. Maybe it’s how Garrett uses one move to set up another. And, considering what Garrett unveiled last week, maybe it’s channeling his own inner basketball player to cross up Browns rookie tackle Dawand Jones.
“I don’t know,” Watt said with a laugh. “We’ll have to wait and see.”
AP Sports Writer Tom Withers in Cleveland contributed to this report.
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