HOUSTON – Should J.J. Watt be the NFL’s Most Valuable Player?
Many who are paid to find ways to slow down the overpowering defensive end for the Houston Texans say yes.
“I’d vote for him,” Cincinnati offensive co-ordinator Hue Jackson said. “I’ve never had a game in my coaching career when I basically had to plan to run one way all day, and he forced me to do that. Even running away from him, he made plays.”
No defensive player has won the MVP since Lawrence Taylor in 1986, joining Alan Page in 1971 as the only defenders to pick up the honour. Only quarterbacks and running backs have won since Taylor had 20 1/2 sacks for the Giants in 1986 to win it.
Colts coach Chuck Pagano has had to plan for Watt twice this season, and perhaps Watt’s best game this year came against Indianapolis in Week 6. Watt had two sacks, swatted down three passes and returned a fumble by Andrew Luck 45 yards for a touchdown.
“He’s a nightmare,” Pagano said. “It’s like a scary movie … he’s near unblockable. And his motor never stops. He’s got great instincts, a great skill set, what can you say? He’d get my vote for MVP right now.”
Watt leads the NFL with 25 tackles for losses and 47 quarterbacks hits. His 17 1/2 sacks are second most in the NFL and he needs 2 1/2 to become the first player in NFL history with at least 20 sacks in two seasons. He leads the NFL with five fumble recoveries and is the first player since Bill Golding in 1948 to have three offensive touchdowns and two touchdowns on takeaways in a season.
Scott Linehan, the passing game co-ordinator and play caller for the Cowboys, said you can’t stop Watt, but the focus is to keep him from “wrecking the game.” He doesn’t see why Watt shouldn’t win MVP.
“It’s hard to argue against it,” Linehan said. “I don’t vote for that stuff so my vote doesn’t count. But the things he’s done are so rare. I think rare things make people MVP candidates.”
The 25-year-old, in his fourth NFL season, has sparked a Houston defence that leads the NFL with a franchise-record 34 takeaways this season.
“Some can be attributed to his pressure or sometimes interceptions come from tips and overthrows, and he’s got his hand on the ball quite a few times,” Jacksonville coach Gus Bradley said. “He’s just a guy that I think really elevates everybody around him.”
Another highlight for Watt came in a win over Buffalo when he got both of his oversized hands on a pass thrown by E.J. Manuel, batted it down and intercepted it before running 80 yards for a touchdown.
And his contributions aren’t just limited to defence. The 6-foot-5, 289-pound Watt, who started his college career as a tight end, has caught three touchdown passes for the Texans, who host Jacksonville on Sunday and are still in the playoff hunt. Watt practices one-handed catches during the week and in pregame, but puts both hands on the ball when he’s grabbing TD passes.
“He looks like (Rob) Gronkowski out there right now running,” Pagano said, comparing him to New England’s Pro Bowl tight end. “The catch he made from the fullback spot in the flat was phenomenal.”
The Texans, of course, are impressed with Watt’s work, but coach Bill O’Brien isn’t doing any campaigning for the award.
“I understand the question, but I could care less about the MVP,” O’Brien said when asked if he should win it. “I really could. I know that he could care less about it, too. I think it’s about the team.”
That doesn’t mean Watt doesn’t enjoy hearing coaches say he should win it.
“It’s special,” he said. “It’s very humbling to hear that from other coaches and players around the league, because those are the guys that you work hard to earn the respect from. … They’ve seen you, and they know what they’re talking about, so those are the guys that you’d really like to have the respect of.”
Some in the NFL don’t like that defensive players are rarely in the conversation for MVP. Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, Luck and Dallas running back DeMarco Murray are other top contenders to win this year’s award. None plays defence.
Pagano would argue that Watt’s importance to the Texans is as high as that of any quarterback.
“Like a quarterback touches the ball every single play, J.J. affects the game that way,” Pagano said. “I know he doesn’t play that position. You normally don’t see it from a position at the defensive line, but he’s as good as or better than anybody that’s ever played on that side of the football.”
Watt also plays on special teams, using his huge mitts to get in the face of kickers and punters, and he blocked an extra point attempt in a win over Washington in September.
With everything he does Jackson believes Watt is the epitome of an MVP.
“You take him off that football team, that’s a different football team,” Jackson said. “The fact he’s out there playing gives them a chance to win every football game.”