The Port Arthur News
HOUSTON — It’s a question that almost made Wade Phillips want to cry.
OK, someone has to ask the tough questions. Some idiot reporter has to do it.
So here goes, Wade… Hmmm. (clear my throat).
“Wade, how do you coach a guy like J.J. Watt?” I asked with a cat-that-ate-the-canary grin in our one-on-one conversation.
You never ask that kind of a question in a group setting but this marked the first time in person for this inspector to really focus his binoculars on No. 99 in the steel blue jersey.
When observations were finished, it seemed as if Watt’s candidacy for NFL Most Valuable Player looked solid no matter if it’s illegal for a defender to receive such an award.
“You know,” Wade said with a light-hearted Mid-County grin, “it’s a tough job but somebody’s got to do it. I would say he’s had the best season of any defensive lineman in the history of the game. It’s really been incredible what he’s done… all in one season.”
To think that J.J. played better in the wild card rematch than in last year’s Bengals-Texans playoff game would seem out of the question at first thought. Yet that may have happened.
Cincinnati knew what Watt plenty. Cincinnati did everything but throw the kitchen sink at J.J. Cincinnati had as little or less success against him in the rematch. J.J. played off the charts again.
“Is he something else?” the son of Bum smiled in near disbelief. “His ceiling is way, way up there.”
To refresh our memories, Watt batted a ball into his hands and dashed 29 yards for a touchdown on a rare defensive lineman’s Pick 6 in last year’s 31-10 elimination of the Bengals. The moment took the nation by storm.
So it’s insane to imagine this writer would make a case that Watt played better in 2013.
“My game today?“ Watt quizzed. “That’s real hard to say. I didn’t score seven points like last year…. And individual things are nothing compared to the team goals.”
OK, let’s break it down. Cincinnati’s offense scored 10 at Reliant last year and really 7 this time. The Pick 6 (by Bengals Leon Hall) was Matt Schaub’s fault, according to Schaub.
Cincinnati gained 21 first downs and 300 total yards a year ago. The Texans defense allowed 12 first downs and 198 total yards on Saturday.
Statistics and scoring plays do not begin to explain how much Watt would impact this game. You had to put the binoculars on him numerous times to appreciate the enormous pains, adjustments and compensations Cincinnati would make to deal with his variety of skills.
“They really did try a little bit of everything today,” Watt said of the Bengals’ diverse tactics.
It’s not only the sacks, the tackles, the passes broken up but it’s the things which J.J. Watt does for his teammates. He enabled Connor Barwin or Brooks Reed to do this or accomplish that because of No. 99’s effective penetration. Like a most appreciated Christmas present, Watt’s a gift that keeps on giving.
“People don’t always see it or appreciate it but J.J. goes out there today and pretty much shuts down the run,” outside backer Reed said. “He batted another one up in the air again today. And (Cincinnati passer Andy) Dalton, even though he’s a great quarterback, he was scrambling a lot. That’s because we made it uncomfortable for him.”
If his defensive coordinator finds it easy to coach J.J., the delight for Watt to play under Phillips is quite similar.
That’s why J.J. remains confident that Wade figures to devise a good plan next week for New England in Sunday’s AFC Divisional playoff game.
“I know that whatever he puts in place is going to be great, and we’re going to execute it,” Watt said. “We’re going to have success. We have no other option.”
They have another option but not if the Houston Texans plan to play in Super Bowl 47.
Tom Halliburton is a Port Arthur News sports columnist