PITTSBURGH -- T.J. Watt works nearly as hard celebrating a sack as he does actually getting one. Fixed somewhere between rage and serenity, Watt leaps out of the backfield, breaks into a 20-yard sprint, flexes his arms toward the sky and pauses to savor the takedown.
Apparently he can't help himself, calling the aftermath a "blackout" moment in which emotions overtake him at the expense of a potential hamstring pull.
“I always have that moment to myself where I’m like, 'Damn, this feels so dang good,'" Watt said after Wednesday's practice in preparation for Sunday's matchup with the Cincinnati Bengals. "The body does whatever the heck it wants. That’s why I can’t stick to one celebration.”
A spazzed-out Watt signals a defense that's working. With eight tackles, three sacks and a forced fumble Sunday against Atlanta, Watt earned AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors and tied brother J.J. Watt for the league-sack lead with six. Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins is part of the three-way tie at the top.
But a disjointed Steelers defense finally looked organized during the 41-17 win. Defensive ends Cam Heyward and Stephon Tuitt were handling the interior and pass coverage had buttoned up the coverage breakdowns that plagued them for a month, allowing outside linebackers Watt and Bud Dupree to work one on one against the tackles.
If sustained, this recipe for success should only strengthen Watt's position as a building block for the Steelers' defense.
But Watt knows it's not that simple, which is why he spent most of his explanation for his breakout day deflecting attention and praising teammates.
"Everything we do is a team stat," Watt said. "We realize that as a team, if we want to be great, we all have to do our job and accept whoever gets the play and be happy for everybody. ... I think it will be a great boost for us.”
Watt recognizes his individual play -- namely, his pass-rush savvy -- will help. That's largely about getting a mental edge. After consistently beating veteran Falcons tackle Ryan Schraeder on Sunday, Watt cited his inside move as the catalyst. Once that started working, he says, "it kind of gets in his head," allowing him to utilize the full arsenal of moves.
Watt is showing once he figures out a tackle, he gets hot.
"The stat line says it all -- very [disruptive]," coach Mike Tomlin said.
This process isn't as evident every week. Watt was relatively quiet with 10 tackles and zero splash plays in Weeks 2-4. But the defense was hemorrhaging big plays on the back end, which minimized the rush. Tomlin called Sunday's performance a "collective rush."
That helps Watt prioritize a do-your-job mentality over individual accolades in October. Asked about what it's like to share the sack lead with his brother, Watt said, "I'm sure my mom thinks it's a lot cooler than I do," citing his allergy to "statistical things."
But teammates want to see more signature Watt moves, before and after the sack.
"That's just part of the tradition -- the Watt family," Dupree said.
The tradition Watt seems to care about is Pittsburgh's pedigree as a top-ranked defense. Right now, the Steelers rank 30th in total defense. But the Atlanta game was a springboard that Watt hopes pays off, starting in Cincinnati.
“I think it’s just awesome to have the film to show we’re capable of this," Watt said. "[That] we can do this week in and week out.”