This article has shifted on somewhat during the week as after listening to a podcast and hearing a discussion on the Patriots always scheming against JJ Watt well, I had already started working my way through the coaching tape when the news of JJ Watt’s re-injuring his back broke. He has already had surgery and will be out for the rest of the season, and I just hope he gets back to full fitness as he really is one of my favourite players in the NFL.
Looking at the coaching tape, Watt did indeed have a quiet game, although there were moments where he was still able to generate penetration, but was a step slow to get to the quarterback or stop a run. However a big reason for this was that the Patriots were playing him cleverly. Watt was frequently double teamed, but not in the over top way I have sometimes seen when other teams have played the Texans. More often than that though, the Patriots would run the ball away from Watt’s side of the line, or they would throw the quick pass before anyone would have been able to generate a pass rush. The Patriots would still block him with a single lineman, and sometimes Watt would shed the block to affect the play even if he didn’t get the tackle, but more often it was a case of avoiding Watt rather than over adjusting the blocking scheme.
I’m not going to speculate when or how Watt got injured, but I did notice there were a couple of drives where he was rested for a few snaps and then brought back, usually in passing downs. Whenever it was, the idea of trying to do anything on an NFL field with a back problem serious enough to be operated on a few days later is kind of terrifying. I tend to vacillate between an appreciation for the other worldly physical talents of NFL players, and remembering that they are only humans at another moment. The toughness so frequently displayed by NFL players has me bewildered given how painful I have found even relatively minor injuries.
There is all kinds of speculation about whether Watt came back to soon, or trained too much after the surgery are going round. It is hard to argue against this given that Watt re-injured his back, but given that Watt’s game is built around toughness and effort I would imagine most would struggle to hold him back.
The big question now is how healthy can he get, given that back injuries are notoriously difficult to recover from and you frequently hear about how people never feel the same after back surgery. The only real answer to that question is time will tell, but I like to think that he will make a full recovery as watching a potentially all-time great player in the making is an absolute pleasure. It’s possible that he will never reach those heights again, but I’m hoping that Watt proves the doubters, including me wrong on this one.