In only his second season, the Texans defensive end has become a nearly unstoppable force.
Texans defensive end J.J. Watt came out of the smokescreen — as a tight end at Central Michigan before being a walk-on (and part-time pizza delivery driver) at Wisconsin — and stepped into the spotlight as arguably best defensive player in the NFL this season.
“The first thing, you love the fanatical effort,” Jets coach Rex Ryan said during his conference call prior to a Week 5 Monday night matchup with the Texans.
“The guy plays with his hair on fire and that’s something you notice. But the size, strength, athleticism; it’s rare to find a guy with that kind of combination. … Really, it’s a guy, as a defensive coach all my life, it’s one of those rare guys that comes along once in a long time and he’s doing a tremendous job.”
The 6'5", 295-pounder with the 82.5-inch wingspan dominated Ryan’s Jets, during a 23–17 victory, just like he has owned every team the Texans have played en route to their 6–1 start this year. The second-year star has earned enormous respect while becoming a larger-than-life character over the first half of 2012.
Through seven games, Watt has 9.5 sacks and an incredible 10 pass deflections — or J.J. “Swatts,” as ESPN analyst Jon Gruden calls the batted balls. Watt’s latest tipped pass fell into the hands of Houston cornerback Johnathan Joseph, who went 52 yards for a pick-six. While Ryan jokingly suggests Watt should play for the Knicks because of his shot-blocking ability, the 3-4 end can also dish out assists that lead to easy scores.
Watt may only just now be getting the recognition he deserves, but he announced himself as a force to be reckoned with during his first two career playoff games last year — when he posted 3.5 sacks and an interception returned for a touchdown.
But now Watt’s playmaking prowess and contagious energy is permeating throughout the Texans’ defense. Houston made a statement during its 43–13 complete domination of Baltimore this past week. The stop-unit scored eight points of their own — on the Joseph pick-six and a first-quarter safety by Connor Barwin — while forcing three turnovers and recording four sacks.
“It’s a lot of fun. It’s nice when everybody’s in on the party,” said Watt, after his first game of the year without a sack. “It’s always fun when everybody’s getting sacks, everybody’s getting plays, and we’re just having fun out there as a defense together.”
After earning their first AFC South division title and winning the franchise’s first playoff game last season, Houston has Super Bowl aspirations. And 6–1 is not nearly good enough; Watt is ready for the long haul.
“We’re only seven games in,” said Watt. “I’ve got a lot bigger goals on my plate than some seven-week goal. There’s 16 weeks in a season, and I plan to use them all.”