A brief overview of three storylines that could help determine the outcome of the Sunday night showdown between the Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers.
GREEN BAY – Outside linebackers Vince Biegel and T.J. Watt started 12 games together for Wisconsin last year, one on each side of the Badgers’ 3-4 defense. Both were key contributors to a unit that ranked No. 4 nationally in scoring defense.
They are connected because they were teammates who made life tough on opposing quarterbacks and hail from the state, Biegel a Wisconsin Rapids native and Watt a Pewaukee native.
But 11 weeks into the NFL season, they are just two guys trying to make the most of their rookie years, neither paying much attention to what the other is doing.
Thus, it appears to be of little significance to both that Biegel’s Green Bay Packers are playing at Watt’s Pittsburgh Steelers in a nationally televised Sunday night game.
“There’s no Vince vs. T.J. here,” Biegel said. “It’s all about playing for our respective organizations and at the end of the day getting a win. T.J.’s going to be playing hard for Pittsburgh, I’m going to be out there trying to help the Packers win and at the end of the day that’s what it’s all about.”
Watt may or may not have a rivalry with Biegel, but he has plenty of reason to stick it to the Packers after they traded out of the 29th pick of the draft while he was still on the board. The Packers moved back four spots in a trade with Cleveland and selected cornerback Kevin King with the first pick in the second round.
The Steelers selected 30th and took Watt.
And if you don’t think there’s a reason to compare the careers of the two former teammates, consider that the Packers used the fourth-round pick they received from the Browns, No. 108 overall, to select Biegel.
Many Packers fans wanted the team to take Watt, but general manager Ted Thompson felt he had to address the cornerback position and selected King. With the trade, he was able to cover two needs, but the question fans will always have is whether he passed on a Pro Bowl player.
It didn’t help Thompson’s cause when Watt had two sacks in the Steelers' season opener against Cleveland while Biegel was on the physically unable to perform list with a broken foot. Watt, a starter since the season began, ranks eighth on the Steelers in tackles with 31, third in sacks with four and fourth in passes broken up with five.
King became a starter in Week 3 and has been a solid player when healthy. Biegel has six tackles in 41 snaps.
As far as Watt is concerned, the draft is over and he has moved on.
“I thought it was a legitimate possibility that I could go to Green Bay, but they didn’t want me,” Watt said. “So, I’m just happy the Pittsburgh Steelers called me next and they took me in with open arms and I couldn’t be happier to be a Pittsburgh Steeler.”
Like Biegel, Watt doesn’t see it as him vs. his former UW teammate despite the connections between the two. He said he and Biegel haven’t spoken since the draft process and have been focused on their own careers.
He admitted the two have a competitive side, but Biegel’s progress doesn’t consume him.
“I think we definitely competed every day during practice and during games at Wisconsin, but it’s not like I’m going home and checking Vince Biegel’s stats every single day,” Watt said. “But I am happy with how he’s been able to come back from his injury and be able to play.”
Both players landed on teams who play a 3-4 defense, so they came in with a basic knowledge of the system. The trick has been learning how to master all the intricacies and learn strengths and weaknesses of their weekly opponents.
Biegel had to spend all of training camp and the first six weeks of the season learning from a classroom. Watt was able to put his knowledge to use on the football field right away and it’s paid off.
But he said it’s not been as seamless and it might seem.
“I would never call anything easy, especially at this level when you’re going up against men who do this for a living,” Watt said. “This is people’s livelihood. These guys are the best at what they do and this will never be easy.”