J.J. Watt is one tough cookie.
The Houston Texans’ defensive end and reigning NFL Defensive Player of the year apparently broke his and this week in practice drills, and yet still expects to play this week against the Patriots. When asked how serious the injury was, Watt responded with exactly what we’d expect him to:
"“People are going to try to make a big deal out of this, but I’ve played with worse than this before, even this season,” Watt said (via ESPN’s Tania Ganguli). “This, I’m not very worried about. My elbow a couple years back was way more painful. This was painful when it happened, but it’s football. In a game of football you’re going to play with pain.”"
Clearly Watt doesn’t seem to be phased by this, and he hopes to continue another dominant season, but will it really be that simple? It’s hard to know if he will be able to continue to be effective with such a significant injury to his hand.
For one, the hands are a very underrated aspect of a defensive lineman’s game. Whether it’s pushing the blocker, swimming over or ripping under a block, or batting a pass down, a defensive lineman’s hands are very important to his game.
J.J. Watt is currently tied for second in the league in defended passes with 6, and those have almost all been batted balls at the line of scrimmage. A broken hand may give him a few reservations about sticking his hand up in the way of a fastball thrown by an opposing quarterback.
Giants defensive lineman Jason Pierre-Paul, effectively playing with one hand after an injury in the offseason, was called out by his coach last week for not making a play on a pass that went over his head (via ESPN’s Dan Graziano). There has to be a certain amount of fear that Watt will play with a little timidity in an effort to keep from re-injuring his hand.
There’s also a fear, however, that Watt will do something instinctively that will actually re-injure the hand, possibly in a more serious way. A broken hand is no small injury, and surely could be easily reinsured with a hard hit or awkward landing. Watt will certainly have it wrapped up tight, but that will do little to protect it from being crushed by a 300 pound offensive tackle.
If the team’s medical staff has cleared Watt to play, they have to be reasonably sure that he isn’t likely to suffer any debilitating injuries by playing. Anyone who’s seen Watt play knows how physically dominating he is, and that dominance won’t go away just because of a hand injury. Hopefully this injury won’t end up having too drastic of an effect on Watt’s season, but his pursuit of a third season with 20+ sacks may be in danger.
Watt’s going to play, and he’s going to play hard, but even he can’t completely overcome injuries and actual physical limitations. Whitney Mercilus, Jadeveon Clowney, John Simon, and the other Houston pass rushers will need to step up to help make up for any amount that Watt slows down.
If the team wants to continue their playoff push, they’re going to need their defense to continue to be dominant, and that starts with Watt. Even if he isn’t at 100% I expect him to still be effective, and no matter what he’ll be the team’s emotional leader. Get well soon J.J.