My phone started buzzing last night somewhere around 8:30. Then it was the iPad, then the phone again, and so on and so forth. I get updates regularly on everything ranging from the latest mass shooting to weather alerts to breaking sports news. Last night fell into the breaking sports news category. And it wasn’t good.
J.J. Watt, 3-time defensive player of the year and the heart and soul of the Houston Texans, reinjured his back against New England, and now will go on injured reserve for the remainder of the year. It’s a gut punch for a Texans team that was already reeling after being humiliated by the Patriots on Thursday Night Football.
Watt had back surgery for a herniated disc in July. He was cleared by doctors and returned to the practice field after just six weeks. Although Watt didn’t play in any preseason games, he did get a lot of snaps in each of Houston’s first three regular season contests. But it was clear that he wasn’t himself. He managed only 8 tackles and 1.5 sacks.
We don’t know exactly what this injury entails, but there’s a high probability it has something to do with his surgically repaired disc. He may in fact have to have another surgery. So why was Watt even out there playing so soon after a back procedure? Yes, Watt is an extremely valuable player, but shouldn’t that be even more of a reason to keep him out longer?
Now we play the blame game. Did the doctors clear him too soon? Did the coaches allow him on the field too soon? Did Watt push himself too hard to get back into the lineup? I would say that everyone made questionable decisions, including Watt himself. What has made him the best defender in the league after just 5 years, has now also become part of his downfall.
Watt hasn’t missed a game since entering the NFL in 2011. Not only that, he has routinely played nearly every defensive snap in the process. Watt is double, sometimes triple-teamed on each play, and he takes a lot of punishment. On top of the beating he takes on the field, he is maniacal with his workout routine. He simply doesn’t give his body much time off to recover. He is his own worst enemy, and it has taken its toll.
There were signs of mortality last season. Watt suffered a broken hand, several torn muscles, and the back issue. Texans fans were stunned to see him down on all fours, barely able to get off the field during the playoff game against Kansas City. He underwent surgeries in the offseason to repair the muscles as well as the back. And then, of course, he was “ready” for the regular season.
Now, even though Texans fans don’t want to hear it, this may actually be a blessing in disguise. Maybe this will be a wakeup call for Watt. Maybe he will actually take the time off to get himself completely healthy and be 100% ready for next season. He is only 27 years old. Perhaps the Texans defense will also wake up, rally, and come together more strongly in Watt’s absence.
Don’t get me wrong, this is very upsetting news. I’m a big Watt fan and you just don’t replace a player like him. But how far were the Texans going anyway this year? They will still compete for the AFC South Title, for what that’s worth. Besides that, they still have games against Cincinnati, Minnesota, Denver, Green Bay, and Oakland. Four of which are on the road.
Houston proved on Thursday that they aren’t close to competing with the top teams in the conference. The offense has a lot of improvements to make. There are a lot of new players in the fold and they simply haven’t gelled yet. The line has been very inconsistent and the running game basically non-existent. The defense is still good enough to keep them in most games, but they are now missing their best player.
Bill O’Brien and Romeo Crennel will now look to Whitney Mercilus, Jadeveon Clowney, and John Simon to provide pass rush on the outside. Interior linemen Vince Wilfork, Christian Covington, D.J. Reader, and Devon Still will need to step up their games. It’s looking like Houston will sign veteran Antonio Smith, 34, to provide depth on the line. Smith previously played for Houston before leaving for Denver in 2013.
So Houston fans should settle in for another up and down season. I predicted a 10-6 season, that won’t happen now. It’s probably more like 8-8 or 9-7 without Watt. Maybe a one and done playoff appearance, maybe not. Hopefully Osweiler and the offense will develop into something, and hopefully the defense will play tough. That’s about all we can really ask for now.