Teams try 'Hack-a-Shaq' strategy vs. T.J. Watt, Steelers say

PITTSBURGH -- After Sunday's loss to the Cardinals, Steelers edge rusher T.J. Watt expressed frustration with the lack of holding calls enforced by NFL officials on plays where the edge rusher is involved. On Tuesday, his defensive coordinator agreed, drawing a comparison between Watt and an unlikely person: Shaquille O'Neal.

"I think T.J. runs into what all the elite rushers do," Teryl Austin said. "These guys are going to hold you until they can't because a lot of times that's the only way they can block.

"I mean I share in his frustration, but I don't think there's anything that we can do about it. We can complain and we can do all that, but that really doesn't solve the problem. So I think we just deal with it. We just continue to fight and go. It's almost like the Hack-a-Shaq."

Watt, of course, doesn't go to the free throw line when he's held, but the idea is similar. In going to great lengths to hold Watt, Austin said, offenses are hoping to minimize his impact on the game and on their quarterback. And, it has become so commonplace that officials aren't calling it.

"People would hack Shaq all the time, and he got fouled so much, and everybody knew it was a foul, but after a while they didn't call it because he was so doggone good," Austin said. "So we just got to keep plugging away. And when he has an opportunity to win -- because he'll still win -- he does that. I think as Mike [Tomlin] likes to call it, it'd be sport bitching, and we're not going to bitch about our circumstances. We're just going to play and fight through it, and T.J. will fight through it, and he'll do it because a good pro and he's a great player."

Watt missed several snaps against the Cardinals when he appeared to be injured after being held by offensive lineman Paris Johnson Jr. to spring quarterback Kyler Murray for a first down. A flag, however, wasn't thrown.

"The NFL has something going against me," Watt said Sunday. "So I don't want to talk any more negatively towards them. I don't know what I did, but I'll leave it at that."

Even with everything offenses throw at Watt, the All-Pro and 2021 Defensive Player of the Year is second in the league with 14 sacks, one behind Khalil Mack.

"T.J.'s a special player," Tomlin said Monday. "People go to a lot of lengths of work to minimize him, and frustration is probably a component of play for him."