Texans DE J.J. Watt, still two months shy of his 24th birthday, is the youngest PFW/PFWA Defensive Player of the Year winner ever.
Of course, those who follow Watt closely know that being ahead of the curve is pretty much the norm.
Much like he singlehandedly destroyed offensive game plans on a weekly basis in his second NFL season, Watt, the only player in history to notch at least 15 sacks and 15 batted balls, has blown up the previous notion of the impact a 3-4 defensive end can have on a game.
Forget just being a run stuffer.
Just be sure not to ignore Watt’s dominance in the run game, too. This is not a typo: the 6-5, 295-pound Watt, Houston’s first-round pick (11th overall) in 2011, recorded 39 tackles behind the line of scrimmage in 2012. More impressive still, Watt was involved in 95 plays of zero or negative yards, according to the Texans.
“My first season (in 2011), I wanted to contribute and help my team win games,” Watt told PFW a few days after spearheading the Texans’ commanding defensive showing in a 19-13 wild-card victory over the Bengals. “My second season, I wanted to be a game changer and put myself in that elite category. I wanted to take my game up another couple notches.”
He can surely check those goals off the to-do list. However, one might contend that Watt’s remarkable stretch of sustained excellence began before his rookie season even ended.
Last January, in the Texans’ first-ever playoff game, Watt leapt into the national spotlight with his incredible pick-six of QB Andy Dalton. Prior to one of the biggest highlights of wild-card weekend, he had garnered attention for an excellent rookie season, sprinkled with flashes of greatness. Yet, it was that pick, in which Watt jolted his blocker, read Dalton’s eyes and plucked the errant throw out of midair, chugging 29 yards for the Texans’ winning score, that served as foreshadowing for what would come next.
Watt tormented the Ravens one week later, tallying 2? sacks in another herculean effort that nearly propelled Houston to the conference title game despite third-stringer T.J. Yates throwing four INTs.
Instead of resting on his laurels — that expression isn’t in Watt’s vocabulary — he committed himself to raising the bar in the offseason.
“I think I improved a lot in all areas,” he said. “I learned a lot more about my pass-rushing style in the offseason and this season. The run game, I played a lot better this year than I did last year. And then, obviously, batted balls. … My goal is always to be a very well-rounded player … so that is something I’m proud of.”
It is almost too difficult to single out one of Watt’s games this season, as he overwhelmed opponents on a weekly basis. Only twice in 16 regular-season games did Watt fail to register a sack or batted ball — on a muddy track at Soldier Field in Week 10, and against the lightning-quick release of Tom Brady and the Patriots in Week 14. Nonetheless, Watt still helped Houston stifle the Bears in one of the Texans’ best defensive performances and, after three QB hits and a forced fumble, he certainly left his imprint in Foxborough.
“It’s so much fun to play on this defense because everybody makes plays,” he said of the NFL’s seventh-ranked stop unit, adding that coordinator Wade Phillips’ scheme, which allows Watt to play every position on the line, gives him freedom to disrupt in different ways. “Its not just me, it’s not just one guy; it’s everybody making plays, flying around. I love this team.”
The feelings are undoubtedly mutual. In the rare instances Watt is held off the stat sheet, he consistently creates opportunities for teammates, swallowing up double-teams and often dictating the opponent running away from his direction.
In addition to the gaudy sack and batted ball totals, Watt led the Texans to first place in the AFC South for the second consecutive year. He finished first on the team in QB hits (42) and forced fumbles (four) and second in tackles (81) and fumble recoveries (two).
The numbers are almost too good to believe on their own. When considering that his biggest contributions seem to come when his team needs them the most, that’s when one starts to truly glean just how valuable Watt is to the Texans.
“Yeah, I think any great player will tell you, when the game is on the line and something needs to happen, they want all eyes on them and they want to be the guy everybody looks to make a play.
“So it is the best feeling in the world when you do go out and do it … that’s why I play the game, that’s why I love the game.”
When asked about coming up just two sacks shy of the NFL single-season record, Watt admitted he was disappointed, but preferred to highlight the Texans’ many accomplishments. He did say he looks forward to many more cracks at the record.
To the delight of the Texans — and the chagrin of the other 31 teams — Watt says he is just getting started.
“If you want to be the greatest of all time, you have to do things that have never been done before,” he said. “You haven’t seen the best of me yet; a lot of fun is yet to come.”