Defensive end J. J. Watt has another season ending injury after Houston’s win against the Raiders. This is the third time in four years his season has been cut short. The five time Pro Bowler is on course for a golden jacket after his performance in Houston over 8 years. Yet, for the Texans’ 2019 season, losing such a vital part of their defense has dealt a blow to their playoff hopes.
Five Time All Pro
J.J. Watt has been as strong of a presence on the team as he has done in all the years prior. He’s put up 20 quarterback hits, on pace for his career season-high of 50. His combined tackles total 24 over the 8 games he has played, again on pace for a strong season. He’s been a difference maker, too. In the shock 31-24 win against the Kansas City powerhouse in week 6, Watt made important tackles on third down, limiting the run. The Chiefs were stuck to only 20 minutes of possession.
J.J. Watt isn’t just a difference maker this season. In the 8 seasons prior, Houston have made the playoffs 4 times with positive point differentials. In addition, according to Pro Football Reference, Watt has been given the highest value player over his 5 healthy seasons. He is held in wide regard to be one of the best active defensive ends. Clearly, his value cannot be understated.
Beyond the gridiron, Watt’s presence for the franchise is felt through the locker room and beyond. His must-win attitude is contagious, and provides a strong standard for rookies joining the team. Outside of the team, his charitable work sets a precedent for all NFL player’s philanthropic work in their community. After Hurricane Harvey, for instance, his fundraising efforts brought in £37 million dollars to provide relief for the Houston area. He’s a man many in and out of the league look up to.
The wider Houston team
Obviously, Watt’s importance needs to be considered in the context of the wider team. Quarterback Deshaun Watson has performed like a star. He’s thrown for 16 touchdowns, averages 278 yards per game with a completion percentage of 69%. Currently, he is on course to beat his box statistics of his 2018 Pro Bowl season. With Watson at the helm, the offense ranks 9th for points scored this season. Wide receivers DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller and newly acquired Kenny Stills have combined for 7 touchdowns between them. The running game is equally as successful, with Carlos Hyde rushing for 544 yards in 8 games.
On the defense, coach Bill O’Brien has addressed that the Texans are struggling with pass rush. O’Brien acknowledged in a press conference on Monday that “no one person is going to take the spot of a Hall of Fame player”. It is up to defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel to find a way to scheme the defense to make up for the loss. However, their versatile nose tackle D J Reader is likely to fill Watt’s position, with Barkevious Mingo, Jacob Martin and Charles Omenihu picking up a greater workload. Whether this is the answer remains to be seen, but the dynamism of the Houston defense gives the coaching staff options.
As the Texans prepare to play Jacksonville in a London divisional matchup, the team are looking ahead in the season. They enter the game 5-3 behind the back-up quarterback lead Indianapolis Colts in the AFC South. The team has the talent on both sides of the ball equivalent to the stronger teams in the NFL. Losing a core member of the team at the halfway point to the season is a blow to morale, but it is unlikely to prevent them from reaching their full playoff potential.
J.J Watt’s future at the franchise is more of an issue than the team making the playoffs. Injuries become harder to return from in a person’s 30s. Houston beat writers are speculating on his contract. JJ Watt’s contract moves into the remaining few guaranteed years, where on field performance becomes the main leverage for players. It’s likely that had he remained healthy this season, the Texans would have torn up his current deal to lock him up until retirement. With his season over, that remains a looming question.
With J. J. Watt being such a household name for the Texans, having him finish his career anywhere but Houston seems out of the question. After all, they’ve had 8 strong healthy games from the defensive end in their bid for the playoffs. It’s up to the rest of the franchise to get there.
Header image: Bob Levety/Getty Images