Slow start for DE J.J. Watt major concern for Texans

Through three weeks, Houston Texans DE J.J. Watt has earned the lowest grade of this career by far.

| 2 months ago
(Photo by Tim Bradbury/Getty Images)

(Photo by Tim Bradbury/Getty Images)

Slow start for DE J.J. Watt major concern for Texans


After returning from offseason surgery, Houston DE J.J. Watt hasn’t been the same force we have come to expect. The Texans have been able to overcome that so far this season because of the play of Whitney Mercilus and Jadeveon Clowney, who have both been on a tear, but the Patriots effectively shut down all three.

Watt had another weak performance, ending with a grade of 46.5 for the game. The bigger problem is that Watt’s mark was the highest grade of any of Houston’s big-three pass rushers. Watt, Mercilus (41.3), and Clowney (42.2) combined for three total QB pressures in the game, with one hurry each.

With rookie Jacoby Brissett, the Patriots dropped back to pass on just 22 snaps, and they were quick throws. Brissett averaged just 2.17 seconds per attempt last night, which was almost half a second per pass quicker than Texans QB Brock Osweiler, and would be the second-quickest figure in the NFL over the season so far. With those factors in mind, it was already unlikely that Houston trio would find much success as pass-rushers, but their run defense was absent, too, against an offensive line they should have been able to have largely prevail against.

The Patriots used double teams a lot, and they were effective, driving the Texans’ edge defenders off the line and down it, opening up space for LeGarrette Blount. Tight end Rob Gronkowski only saw 14 snaps in his first game back from injury, but he did some impressive work in the run game on these blocks.

Martellus Bennett was on the field for 61 snaps, missing just one all game, and he was once again an impressive blocking force, but Nate Solder and Joe Thuney in particular on the left side of the New England line also made an impact on double teams.

In essence, we saw once again the New England Patriots reigning supreme when it comes to crafting a game plan to neutralize the opposition, even on a short week. They took away Houston’s biggest strengths, and did it while also playing to their own, which is a combination that has to be merely applauded as a coaching performance.

What is worrying for Houston is that they are now three games into the season without having seen the real J.J. Watt, and the Texans have to be asking themselves how long it will take him to get back and firing on all cylinders.

J.J. Watt season grades

Watt has nine total pressures through three games, down from the 5.75 he averaged a year ago—which itself was an injury-affected figure down from the 7.4 he averaged the year before. He has recorded only two sacks and three defensive stops this season. Houston’s defense has been a good unit overall in 2016, but taking one of the best players in football out of it, or at least making him like just another player, is going to impact the team as a whole over the season.

Right now, the Houston Texans need J.J. Watt back—not just on the field.

| Senior Analyst

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

  • crosseyedlemon

    When you have a dominate player like Watt there is always huge pressure to get him back playing as soon as possible. The Patriots had to go through something very similar back in 2013 when Gronk was injured. Gronk was not rushed back before he felt 100% but J.J may have been.

    • AJ

      I think that about this year’s Packers (not relevant here, but it made me think of it). Nelson may need a similar grace period to truly get back to speed. Everyone will shut up about the Packers and Rodgers if they light it up this week, kind of like how everyone though the 2014 Patriots were done for after the KC loss.

      • crosseyedlemon

        Fans tend to discount how important “mental preparation” is to NFL players. If a player like Nelson or Watt has lingering doubts about how recovery from an injury is going, their movements won’t be natural and that will adversely affect their performance.

    • Wackanhut

      Ive had surgery to repair minor ligament and bone damage in my hand. Technically my hand was “healed” 2 weeks after the surgery, given time to recover 90% range of movement and allow pain and swelling to decrease took 12-16 weeks really. At that point (and probably earlier if willing to take the pain) there is nothing technically that should prevent playing football, but it has taken another 12 months before It feels 100% again, its subtle but significant when the margins are so fine.

      • crosseyedlemon

        I agree completely with you that the psychological aspect of healing is just as important as the physical aspect and that it can sometimes take longer.

        • Wackanhut

          I’m not talking about psychological recovery. The recovery from 90% to 100% physiologically takes a long time. Im not talking about lack of confidence or worrying about it, it just isn’t quite the way it should be until you get used to any new limitation or any newly repaired areas get sort of bedded in. My point is the acute injury may heal quickly to a satisfactory level, but the last little bit isn’t quick. For me not a big deal performance wise, for Watt. . . Point being he wasn’t necessarily rushed back, his injury may be as strong as new but just not quite 100% which could take months still.

    • grammarcorrecter

      dominant

  • AJ

    His back surgery was similar to that of Jason Pierre-Paul a few years ago. In that case, JPP also didn’t miss any games, but clearly wasn’t himself for the entire season. He didn’t return to pre-surgery form until the following season. JPP also had his surgery in May of that year, while Watt’s was in July, although the specifics and severity of the surgeries could render that part of it irrelevant. I hope I’m wrong, but if JPP is any kind of guide here, this may be a season long struggle for Watt. Again, I hope I’m wrong about that.