The last decade of Houston Texans teams have always known one thing. No matter the
uncertainty at quarterback, or the questionable players manning the offensive line, they were going to have one of the best passes rushes in the league year after year. Over the years they have had several pass rushers roll through the rotation.
From 2011 to 2013, Antonio Smith played left end. He averaged just over six sacks per season in the three year span. From 2009 to 2017, linebacker Brian Cushing amassed 13.5 sacks. By no means are those numbers great, but he was always a threat to get home. Whitney Mercilus, also a linebacker, averaged 7.5 sacks per season from 2012 to 2016, including one of which he broke the ten sack mark.
While Smith and Cushing are no longer with the Texans, and Mercilus is yet to record a sack this season, the right end position has been locked down. J.J. Watt has been a constant force on the edge when healthy. The crazy part though, how he is still performing at the level that he is even after multiple injuries.
Watt had one of the best stretches in the history of the NFL for a defensive player. Bruce Smith, who is the all-time sack leader, never surpassed the twenty sack mark. Reggie White, who sits second on the all-time sack list and is widely considered the best defender to ever play the game, only eclipsed the mark once. Watt did it twice in his first four seasons.
After being drafted 11th overall in 2011, the Wisconsin product had 20.5 sacks and four forced fumbles in his second season. In his third season, he fell back down to earth, only finishing with 10.5 sacks, but he had four forced fumbles once again. The next season, he matched his sophomore season, finishing with 20.5 sacks again, forcing four more fumbles.
He’s led the league in sacks in two of his five healthy seasons in the NFL. He has been an
unprecedented force off the edge, one that virtually no team has had an answer for. Unfortunately for the Texans, even though they have entered each and every season knowing full well they have the best defensive end in the game, they haven’t been able to see him don the jersey every weekend.
During the 2015 season, injury scares started for the superstar defensive end. Watt played
through a groin injury and a broken hand, but that offseason, in early 2016, he had a surgical procedure on his groin for a sports hernia. In July of the same offseason he had back surgery for a herniated disc. He played the first three weeks of the 2016 season, but was eventually placed on injured reserve to undergo back surgery once again. This ended his season and the excitement about the Texans defense was on pause until the 2017 season.
After a long period of recovery for Watt, he returned from injury to begin the 2017 season. Through the first quarter of the season, he had been effective, but was yet to record a sack. Adamant was Watt that he was not worried about his sack totals. In week five, Watt had an awkward fall that forced him to leave the game. Texans fans held their breath as they awaited the news on J.J. Watt. It was later revealed that he had suffered a tibial plateau fracture, and he would need surgery. He was placed on the injured reserve again, ending his season for the second time in as many years.
The buzz around Watt had slowed significantly. After putting the league on watch for the first five years of his career, injuries had put a stop to the terror he was inflicting on opposing offensive lines. Not only had he undergone three surgical procedures in the past two seasons, but he didn’t have the sack production in the games he had played for the media to continue to talk about him. Young stars like Aaron Donald, Khalil Mack and Von Miller were dominating the defensive line headlines, and rightfully so. As made clear with his scouting report, being doubted only adds fuel to the fire.
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This season the Texans were getting back tons of injured players. Watson was likely the main reason why the Texans were being given playoff expectations entering the season. Regardless of how high the Texans expectations rose, the media was very hesitant to place any expectations on Watt. Being effective only matters on the field, and if the sack numbers aren’t there, then the hype isn’t either.
The season opened against the Patriots, and the offensive line did a good job of controlling the Texans pass rush. Week two was in Nashville, and even though the Titans played with backup tackles on both sides, Watt failed to get home once again. The anxiousness grew larger and larger as Texans fans watched their city hero fail to record sacks. Thankfully, he exploded in week three for three sacks while working against left tackle Chad Wheeler. He followed that up by sacking Andrew Luck twice, and Dak Prescott once.
Watt sits at a comfortable six sacks and four forced fumbles on the season. The six sacks sit atop the league, tied with his brother who plays outside linebacker for the Steelers. The forced fumble figure sits atop the league, tied with the newest Bears star Khalil Mack. Watt will work against the abysmal Bills’ offensive line this week, and then he’ll likely see the newest member of the Jaguars next week. Josh Wells was sent to the injured reserve and to replace him they signed Ereck Flowers, who the Giants had just cut.
His production should continue over the next few games, and his strength and health look much better than it has in the past. It is safe to say the hype should be there again for Watt moving forward.
J.J. Watt’s ambition to be one of the best to ever play football is undeniable. He works out harder than any other player in the NFL. Even coming off of surgery, regardless of which one, he was always ahead of the recovery curve, training so hard to get back onto the field. While this may have played into his demise, it seems at this point that Watt has figured out how to balance his recovery and his workouts.
His abilities on the field over the first several years of his career were off the charts. While
injuries plagued him, he always seemed ahead of the curve in terms of his recovery. His
workouts make viewers sweat watching them. His production and abilities following three
surgeries in quick succession is truly unbelievable.
At 29 years old, Watt has already made the case to be one of the toughest players to ever play the game. He’s also well on track to being one of the true legends on the defensive side of the ball.