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Will Steelers be NFL's top defense with healthy T.J. Watt?

Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes collected his second career Associated Press Most Valuable Player last season, distancing himself from a field that included Eagles QB Jalen Hurts and Bills signal-caller Josh Allen.

A case can be made, however, that no player was more valuable to his team than Steelers pass rusher T.J. Watt.

Pittsburgh allowed the fewest total yards per game (272.9) in the NFL from Weeks 10-18 after Watt's return from a torn pectoral and knee injury -- more than 100 yards less than the Steelers allowed without him, according to NFL Research. Does a healthy Watt make the Steelers one of the league's best defenses? A look inside the numbers provided by NFL Research provides an emphatic yes.

In 2022, the Steelers rallied down the stretch for a 9-8 record, keeping their playoff hopes alive until Week 18.

There were myriad reasons for Pittsburgh's emergence, but the presence of Watt was clearly paramount.

Without Watt in 2022, Pittsburgh was a dismal 1-6. With Watt in 2022, Pittsburgh was a sterling 8-2.

The Watt-led Steelers allowed just 16.9 points per game and 288.8 total yards, posting 32 sacks and 18 takeaways in 10 games. The Watt-less Steelers allowed 25.3 points a game, 389.9 yards and tallied just eight sacks and five takeaways in seven contests.

Only linebacker Patrick Queen of the rival Ravens and Watt (5.5 sacks, eight tackles for loss, 12 QB hits, two interceptions and a forced fumble) had five-plus sacks, multiple picks and a forced fumble in 2022. And Watt did it in only 10 weeks of playing time.

Watt's showing a season ago was just a sample size of what he's been doing during a six-year career that's seen him make five Pro Bowls, three All-Pro squads and garner 2021 Associated Press Defensive Player of the Year.

Quite simply, Watt is off to one of the greatest starts for a pass rusher in NFL history.

Since 2017 when Watt debuted as a rookie first-rounder, he's led the NFL in sacks (77.5), including a record-tying 22.5 in 2021, QB hits (162) and forced fumbles (23), per NFL Research. Watt's averaging 0.89 sacks per game in his career -- the most in league history (minimum 50 games). Those 77.5 sacks not only have Watt on a Hall of Fame trajectory, but with a shot at becoming just the third player in league chronicle to notch 100 career sacks before his 30th birthday. Watt doesn't hit the big 3-oh until Oct. 11, 2024, and by then, he might well reach the rarified air previously gained only by Hall of Famer Reggie White and Jared Allen.

It's unsurprising that the Steelers are indeed better with Watt in the lineup, but just how big an impact he makes is eye-popping. What a difference a Watt makes, indeed.

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