NFL coaches place a premium value on the importance of training camp and preseason. Even in the games that the starters don’t play much, the coaches feel it is vital for them to get reps in live game action in order to prep them for the regular season. This past Sunday, Houston Texans DE J.J. Watt practically made a mockery of that theory as he terrorized the Miami Dolphins and rookie QB Ryan Tannehill in the Texans 30-10 season opening victory.
Watt missed the entire preseason with a dislocated left elbow suffered during the first week of training camp. He resumed practicing a couple of weeks thereafter, but coach Gary Kubiak and his staff elected to hold him out of the last two preseason games to ensure he would be completely ready for the opener. Watt made them look like geniuses, showing no ill effects from the injury or the black elbow brace that he wore on his left arm.
The brace made Watt’s arm somewhat resemble the arm of The Terminator, and he terminated any hope that Miami had of pulling a season opening upset with a series of plays in the 2nd quarter. Tanehill may still be having nightmares about Watt and that 2nd quarter. Watt had four pass deflections, including two on back to back Dolphin offensive snaps that led to interceptions. His first deflection was caught in mid air by LB Brian Cushing at the Texans 45 yard line. That led to an Arian Foster 14 yard touchdown run.
On Miami’s very next offensive play following the ensuing kickoff, Watt was at it again. This time his tipped ball was picked off by CB Kareem Jackson at the Miami 30. The short field led to another Foster TD run, this time from 2 yards out. Just like that a 3-3 game turned into a 17-3 Texans lead all within a 3:00 span of the 2nd quarter and Houston was on its way to a 20 point rout following a slow start.
Watt’s efforts were all a part of the Texans ‘Bulls on Parade’ defense that forced 4 Miami turnovers, all on consecutive possessions in the nightmarish 2nd quarter for the Dolphins. The Texans offense scored following each takeaway, with 24 of their 30 points coming off of turnovers. It was just another day at the office for Watt, who was up to his old tricks and picked up where he left off last postseason.
In Houston’s previous game at Reliant Stadium, a 31-10 playoff victory over the Cincinnati Bengals, Watt not only deflected a pass from Bengals QB Andy Dalton, he picked it off and ran it back all the way for a touchdown. The pick-6 by the 6-5, 295 lb Watt boke a 10-10 tie in the 2nd quarter, giving the Texans the momentum and setting the stage for the ensuing rout. Sounds like a similar script doesn’t it?
In addition to the 4 deflections, Watt (or J.J Swat as defensive coordinator Bum Phillips tweeted), finished with 3 tackles, 1.5 sacks (and 2 assists on the turnovers). Not a bad opening act for a player who missed the entire preseason. If there was any rust, Watt looked to have shaken it off in a hurry. He plans to ditch the elbow brace after a couple of games, but if he continues to deflect passes for interceptions maybe he will decide to keep it.
Regardless, the bad news for the rest of the Texans 2012 opponents is that the 23 year old Watt is only going to get better. Jacksonville Jaguars QB Blaine Gabbert is next on the list of QB’s to have to deal with Watt. After watching the film of the Texans week 1 player of the week, he, like Tannehill, probably didn’t get much sleep this week.