News coming out Tuesday evening that Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt has been placed on injured reserve with a back injury caught a lot of people by surprise.
OFFICIAL: The Texans have placed DE J.J. Watt on Reserve/Injured.
— Houston Texans (@HoustonTexans) September 28, 2016
Watt, one of the best all-around players in the NFL, was expected to help the Texans take that step from bottom-rung playoff team to legit conference title contender.
Now that he’s potentially lost for the remainder of the season, the Texans’ title hopes have taken a major hit. You simply don’t lose a player of this ilk without taking a dramatic step back on the field.
With that said, the Texans as a title contender proved to be somewhat of a farce this past week when it dropped a 27-0 contest against a New England Patriots squad that was starting a rookie third-string quarterback.
Those are losses you simply don’t overcome. They speak to the wide gap between playoff contenders an those vying to play in the Texans’ home stadium in Super Bowl 51 this upcoming February.
Houston as a title contender was always somewhat of a reach. Brock Osweiler, the team’s new $72 million quarterback, had started seven NFL games prior to this season. New running back Lamar Miller never averaged more than 13.5 rush attempts during his Miami Dolphins career.
Sure this was a better backfield than the combo of Brian Hoyer and Alfred Blue that Houston trotted out there in its 30-0 wild card loss to the Kansas City Chiefs last season.
This isn’t up for debate. It also doesn’t mean the Texans were primed for a title push with this new backfield.
More than anything, the injury to Watt impacts the NFL’s product as a whole moving forward this season.
A league that’s seen as offense-friendly. A league that’s stars are usually those wearing the “C” while under center. It’s all about the glitz and glamour of the passing game in today’s NFL.
The Tom Bradys and Aaron Rodgers of the world. Cam Newton dominating in Carolina. Russell Wilson’s wizardry in the Pacific Northwest. Drew Brees’ statistical dominance in the Bayou.
That’s what has defined the past 10-plus years of football in the United States. These players, while among the best the game has ever offered, run in quantity today.
The same cannot be said for the J.J. Watts of the game. Those defenders that can absolutely dominate and take over a game. Those defenders that make football itself, not just the passing game, fun watching.
That’s what the NFL has been missing to a great extent over the years. And along with Von Miller of the Denver Broncos, Watt is one of the few players that provides this on a consistent basis.
The stats tell us this story.
J.J Watt 2014 Season Stats
5 Fumble Recoveries
4 Forced Fumbles
— 360°FantasyFootball (@360FFB) August 5, 2016
The tape tells us this story.
The offensive lines legitimately having to throw three men on Watt in protection tells us this story.
More so than moving forward this season, we have absolutely no idea when Watt will be back on the field. We don’t know whether he’s going to be at 100 percent when he attempts to play again.
We also don’t know whether Watt himself will gut this out over the long term.
Here’s a guy that indicated he considered retirement while undergoing rehab during the offseason (more on that here.)
The very same guy that wants to make sure he’s still playing at a dominating level in order to continue his career. If not, he will hang them cleats up.
Unfortunately, last week presented us with a three-time Defensive Player of the Year that was not playing among the best in the game. He was constantly on the turf and failed to make much of an impact against New Enland.
This isn’t a knock on Watt. Instead, it just speaks to the pain he was going through following off-season surgery.
The NFL can overcome the retirement of a Peyton Manning. And while it hurts in Detroit, Calvin Johnson hanging up the cleats didn’t impact the brand on the field.
If Watt were to never live up to his early-career performance. If he were to just say enough is enough. If this were to happen, it would impact the NFL much more than the Texans. That much is clear.