FALCON POINTS

If J.J. Watt can actually return for the playoffs, the potential impact is huge

If J.J. Watt can actually return for the playoffs, the potential impact is huge
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The Texans might have given themselves an early Christmas gift.

On Tuesday, the Texans designated J.J. Watt for return from the injured list. They now have a 21-day window to activate him. Watt can return to practice, and the hope is he would be available for the playoffs. Even if he is not 100 percent, Watt would provide a major boost to a struggling defense if he can get on the field.

At 10-5, the Texans finish the season with the Titans on Sunday. For all practical purposes, they are locked in to the four seed in the AFC, barring a surprising Kansas City loss to the Chargers. The reality is most key players should be rested on Sunday, and even if Watt is ready to go, that should include him as well. Having him healthy for a probable playoff game with the Bills would be critical to their chances.

And if he can be ready for the playoffs...


 How much impact?

Watt's impact on the defense can't be understated. Even when he is not showing up on the stat sheet, teams have to account for him, freeing up other defenders to make plays.

In the eight games with Watt in the lineup, the Texans had 17 sacks. (That includes the Raiders game where he was injured in the first half and the Texans did not register a sack). In the seven games since, they have 14 sacks, while that may not seem like a big difference, 10 of those 14 came in three games against the Jags, Patriots and last week against the Bucs. The seven games includes another game where they did not register a sack at all and two games where they only had one.

Despite missing those games, Watt remains second on the team with four sacks.

With Watt in the lineup, opponents averaged 362 yards on offense per game. Without him? The Texans have allowed 407 yards per game. With a healthy Watt, they allowed over 400 yards just once, in the opener when they gave up 510 yards to the Saints, thanks in part to a terrible scheme that relied on overmatched defensive backs. In the seven games without him, they have allowed over 400 yards four times, and nearly that - 391 - in the ugly Broncos loss.

Concern about the longterm

While some may want Watt to rest up and fully recover for next season, the simple question is why? Is he risking re-injury? Of course. But he would have all off-season to recover, and if you aren't going to risk it in the playoffs, when would you ever? Isn't that why you play the game? Watt is at the stage of his career where he may not have a lot of games left in him. Having him for a potential playoff run would be huge. Watt has appeared in just 32 of a possible 63 games over the last four seasons so anything you get out of him is a bonus. Play him now, and worry about next year next year.

The next step

Assuming Watt is able to go, even at 80 percent he should help a defense that ranks in the bottom half of the league in most categories. They have rebuilt the secondary on the fly, and Watt's presence should allow Whitney Mercilus and D.J. Reader more opportunities to put pressure on the quarterback, which would help the corners and safeties in coverage.

If he can play - and after all, that is no lock - it will be great news for a team that has had minimal postseason success. Watt's presence would put the defense as currently built at 100 percent for the first time all season. Watt would join in-season acquisitions Gareon Conley and Vernon Hargreaves and a healthy Bradley Roby in the secondary, something the Texans did not have when Watt went out. Barring a key injury on Sunday, the Texans defense would enter the postseason in as good a shape as they have been all year.

That's if Watt is ready.

We will find out if that happens soon enough.

Of course, if the offense continues to struggle, none of it will matter. But if Watt is ready, it's the best Christmas gift the Texans could have gotten.

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Justin Verlander will start for the Astros on Friday night. Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images.

Houston Astros (22-28, third in the AL West) vs. Oakland Athletics (21-31, fourth in the AL West)

Oakland, California; Friday, 9:40 p.m. EDT

PITCHING PROBABLES: Astros: Justin Verlander (2-2, 3.97 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 26 strikeouts); Athletics: Ross Stripling (1-8, 5.19 ERA, 1.56 WHIP, 32 strikeouts)

BETMGM SPORTSBOOK: LINE Astros -170, Athletics +142; over/under is 8 1/2 runs

BOTTOM LINE: The Oakland Athletics begin a three-game series at home against the Houston Astros on Friday.

Oakland has a 21-31 record overall and a 12-14 record in home games. The Athletics have hit 65 total home runs to rank third in the AL.

Houston is 22-28 overall and 8-13 in road games. The Astros have a 13-4 record in games when they did not allow a home run.

The teams match up Friday for the fifth time this season. The Astros lead the season series 4-0.

TOP PERFORMERS: Brent Rooker has 11 home runs, 17 walks and 32 RBI while hitting .286 for the Athletics. Max Schuemann is 12-for-35 with a double and two RBI over the past 10 games.

Kyle Tucker leads Houston with 17 home runs while slugging .638. Alex Bregman is 9-for-38 with three home runs and six RBI over the last 10 games.

LAST 10 GAMES: Athletics: 2-8, .225 batting average, 5.25 ERA, outscored by 27 runs

Astros: 7-3, .272 batting average, 3.13 ERA, outscored opponents by 20 runs

INJURIES: Athletics: Esteury Ruiz: 10-Day IL (wrist), Darell Hernaiz: 60-Day IL (ankle), Alex Wood: 15-Day IL (rotator cuff), Paul Blackburn: 15-Day IL (foot), Joseph Boyle: 15-Day IL (back), Freddy Tarnok: 60-Day IL (hip), Luis Medina: 60-Day IL (knee), Sean Newcomb: 60-Day IL (knee), Aledmys Diaz: 60-Day IL (calf), Miguel Andujar: 10-Day IL (knee), Ken Waldichuk: 60-Day IL (elbow), Trevor Gott: 60-Day IL (elbow)

Astros: Oliver Ortega: 60-Day IL (elbow), Bennett Sousa: 60-Day IL (shoulder), Penn Murfee: 60-Day IL (elbow), Luis Garcia: 60-Day IL (elbow), Lance McCullers Jr.: 60-Day IL (elbow), Jose Urquidy: 15-Day IL (forearm), Kendall Graveman: 60-Day IL (elbow)

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