Impact of J.J. Watt injury on Texans’ postseason aspirations

Are the Houston Texans still AFC South contenders—and beyond—without DE J.J. Watt?

| 9 months ago
Texans DE J.J. Watt

(Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

Impact of J.J. Watt injury on Texans’ postseason aspirations

The Houston Texans are going to have to prove they belong in 2016 without their best player, J.J. Watt, who re-aggravated his back injury and will likely miss the remainder of the season.

Watt looks set to go on IR, and even if he is designated to return, he must miss a minimum of eight weeks, putting him out until Week 12 and the final month of the season, at the earliest.

The Texans are going to be without the best defensive player in the game over the past few seasons for the majority of this year.

The silver lining—if you can call it that—is that the Texans have been without the real J.J. Watt for the first three games of this season, anyway, as he has been far from 100 percent since the first surgery to repair a herniated disk in his back.

Watt’s PFF grade has been nothing like the consistent excellence we have come to expect and take for granted, and his numbers are down across the board.

J.J. Watt season grades

Watt does have two sacks across the first three games, and nine total pressures. That’s certainly a respectable number, and would shake out to 48 over the season, but last year, he recorded 90. The year before it was 119, and he averaged nine batted passes as well over those two seasons.

Last season, Watt notched a pressure every 6.9 pass rushes, and the season before it was 5.6. This season, that has dropped to a pressure every 10.6 pass rushes, and his play against the run has fallen off even more dramatically. He has just one defensive stop against the run so far this season, or 1.6 percent of his snaps against the run. That’s down from 10.5 percent a season ago that saw him notch 37 stops, and 39 stops the year before that at almost the same rate.

Against New England in Week 3, he posted one of the worst grades of his career, coming out of the game almost blanked from the stat sheet. He had just a single hurry, one tackle, and one defensive stop over 50 snaps of play against a relatively week Patriots O-line.

This season, Houston has been able to generate pass-rush from multiple other sources, though. The trio of Jadeveon Clowney, Whitney Mercilus, and John Simon have combined for 25 total pressures over three games and each has at least two more defensive stops than Watt has recorded.

Houston’s defense is still in good shape overall, but without Watt at full strength, is it good enough to compensate for when the offense doesn’t fire, as happened against the Patriots? The answer, at least so far, has been no, but it will need to be for this team to make it through the season as genuine contenders.

Of course, Houston plays in the AFC South, and already has a one-game lead within the division as the only team with a winning record. So far there has been nobody in that division that looks capable of creating a serious run of wins, so Houston may have some breathing room when it comes to securing a playoff berth. This is a team, though, that wants more than just to make the postseason; they want to be able to progress within it and mount a serious challenge to AFC powerhouses like New England and Denver.

We have already seen that they aren’t close to being able to do that to New England yet, and Denver may well be the same story, but they now have at least eight weeks to figure out how to be a contending team without Watt. If they can do that, and Watt is able to return late in the year, they get a huge boost at the most critical time. If he doesn’t return until 2017, then at least they have prepared for the playoffs without him over the regular season.

| Senior Analyst

Sam is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus, as well as a contributor to ESPN and NBCSports.

  • Johnny U.

    meh they were 44-39 with him, no big loss