J.J. Watt is headed for illustrious but strange company

Maximize opportunity before Watt gets wasted

Houstontexans.com

Thursday the reality of what J.J. Watt is facing really hit me. The Houston Chronicle reported Watt had a minor offseason knee surgery. The last three years prove he's far from immortal, though the once incredible career is back on track. For how long, no one knows. Then I finally realized it.

J.J. Watt is on pace to be the greatest defensive player to never play for a conference championship or a Super Bowl.

I started digging into the lists of the all-time great defenders and the best pass rushers in the game's history. Most of the players who would easily be considered a great on defense have at the very least won a Lombardi. If they haven't won the big trophy they've either played or been one game away.

Two names stick out on the all-time greats list. Deacon Jones played three postseason games all in the divisional round. Dick Butkus never played in the postseason. You have to go to 24th all-time in sacks, Pat Swilling with 107.5, to find a sack leader who hasn't at least played in a conference championship or better.

It's a line on almost every great's resume and Watt's missing it.

Watt's only 30 sacks away from the top 20 in career sacks. His three defensive player of the year awards in four years cemented an era of dominance rarely matched in NFL history. He will put on the gold jacket one day. It would be bittersweet to find himself among those greats having never played in a game with that level of importance.

Unless he plays in one.

Brian Gaine and Bill O'Brien can't mess this up or they will be accessories to a sports crime: cementing Watt's place as the all-time great without a huge game to his name. The Texans enter one of the most important offseasons in franchise history. They have to find a way to protect Deshaun Watson as he's the key to making sure Watt's schedule pushes beyond 16 games each year. It's no easy task, but go do it. Make the defense's job just a little easier with some powerful offense.

Give Watt and company just a second more too with better secondary play. Help him out with a better pass rush next to him and not just opposite him. There's so many things the Texans have to get right with their massive cap space and three picks in the top two rounds.

It won't all be Gaine and O'Brien's fault if they don't do it, however they have a chance, with Watson and the rest of this team, to make sure a truly significant game appears on the schedule for Watt. Just one conference championship appearance, then, who knows. Maybe the big one and the Lombardi trophy.

Now here's a thought that will shake all Texans fans.

If the Texans don't nail it this offseason and show the next few seasons they're not legit threats, maybe Watt fills the hole in his distinguished career elsewhere. Reggie White left in his 30's. DeMarcus Ware found glory with the Broncos after a long Cowboys career. It isn't unheard of to see one franchise's legend don another team's colors.

I'm not sure what would hurt Texans fans more. Knowing Watt never played in the biggest games with the Texans or seeing him get to one of those games with another team. It's the hope neither of those things happen. There are almost never happy endings in football, but Watt's story deserves one or more of those chapters.

Most Popular

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome

Listen Live

ESPN Houston 97.5 FM
The Texans host the Steelers at NRG this Sunday. Composite Getty Image.

What: Texans vs. Steelers

When: 10/1 12pm CST kickoff

Where: Houston, TX NRG Stadium

TV/Radio: KHOU-TV, KILT-Radio

Betting Lines: Steelers -2.5 (-120), O/U 42 (-110) *As of this writing

The Watt Brother Bowl takes place on Sunday. I'm calling it that because the Texans are honoring their all-time great J.J. while they're playing his younger brother and current hell raising edge rusher for the Steelers T.J. The Steelers have won four of the last five matchups vs. the Texans by an average score of 28-17. The biggest difference is that the Steelers have a second year starter at quarterback in Kenny Pickett, and the Texans have a rookie in C.J. Stroud. When you look at the two quarterbacks, both organizations have full faith in each guy. Both teams have tried to build a defense to help their young signal callers. Both are still trying to surround their franchise guys with weapons.

When the Steelers have the ball: Here's a game where Will Anderson Jr can make headway as a proven EDGE. Stacking consistent performances together and helping your team win games by making winning plays. It helps that Pickett has tiny hands. This was a knock on him during draft season last year. Hand size for a quarterback impacts grip. That can not only impact accuracy, but it could make it easier to strip the ball from him.

While he doesn't have the weapons to torch this defense, Pickett does hand the ball off to Najee Harris who's more than capable. Averaging only 67 yards rushing as a team can't be taken lightly. Denzel Perryman is expected to miss the game Sunday, so hopefully that won't help jumpstart the Steelers' run game. The Texans defense will have to key in on the run, given that they average giving up 117 a game on the ground. Those aforementioned weapons may not be scary, but the injuries to the defensive backs has hurt. Tavierre Thomas is expected to miss the game recovering from hand surgery. Jimmie Ward coming back last week showed what happens when they have a top safety back there, especially when the pass rush is turning up. Hopefully, the Texans can capitalize again this week, with safety Jalen Pitre expected to return to action.

When the Texans have the ball: Good luck stopping Tank Dell and Stroud! These guys have already established themselves as a formidable duo three games into their careers. A great way to get that connection going is to pound the rock. The Steelers are giving up over 150 yards on the ground per game so far this season. That's also a good way to keep T.J. at bay while J.J. watches. With Laremy Tunsil and Josh Jones both expected to miss the game, here are the offensive line starters: Austin Deculus, Kendrick Green, Jarrett Patterson, Shaq Mason, and George Fant.

Making the younger Watt brother slow down a bit instead of going balls to the wall after Stroud because a run could be coming will help the pass game tremendously. Stroud will have to continue to make quick decisions, but even quicker this game. I wouldn't be surprised to see his first pick of his career here, given the pressure he's most likely to be under. Especially when your offensive line starters were mostly all backups to begin this season.

Outcome: I failed to place a money line bet on the Texans last week because the game started and the live bet wasn't as profitable. I wanted to take a chance on them given their recent record against the Jags. Looking at their last five vs. the Steelers, one would say why make that bet this week? It's because I believe in Stroud more than I believe in Pickett. While T.J. Watt is a different kind of monster, Will Anderson Jr is on his way to becoming something special. Texans win/cover, and hit the over, but barely: Texans 24, Steelers 20.

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome