AFC South

J.J. Watt’s Absence Felt, but Not an Ominous Forecast for Houston Texans

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“Next man up” has been the motto for the Houston Texans.

Following the injured reserve placement of star defensive standout J.J. Watt, that camaraderie-based team slogan will now weigh that much heavier.

Re-injuring his surgically repaired back sometime between their Week 2 matchup with Kansas City to the conclusion of their Week 3 tussle with New England, Houston will now ride with what looks to be the entire rest of the season without the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

It’s a devastating loss, but not detrimental to their season. After all, this is a collective effort.

“When someone like that goes down, it’s a tough thing, obviously,” head coach Bill O’Brien said. “But, at the same time this is a football team, this is a team; a team made up of some really good veteran leaders, some really good young players. Got a lot of good players, got a lot of good players in that locker room and we’re looking forward to the challenges that are ahead.”

The Texans are coming off one of the worst league losses of the season with their 27-0 egging against the Patriots and now with this news surfacing, some may see this sequence of events as a catastrophic foreshadowing of what’s to come for Houston. Contrary to the doubters, Watt’s absence – which is without question a major concern – should allow the team to build stronger chemistry.

Normally in these types of circumstances a group thrives off proving themselves worthy in the aftermath of said misfortunes, and for the Texans it’s no different. At some point injuries will occur and if there’s any good fortune it’s that it happened early in the season, so the timetable to adjust is plentiful. Ultimately, though, the Texans are confident in who’s healthy now.

“J.J. is a guy you can’t replace,” quarterback Brock Osweiler said. “His body of work is second to none. Obviously, he’s a tremendous football player, but he’s an even better teammate and he’ll certainly be missed. But, bottom line, this is the National Football League, big time players get put on IR every single year. Every single team will face adversity at some point in their season and it really just boils down to the “next man up” mentality.”

Houston’s no stranger to losing marquee players, either.

Last season, the Texans played the majority of the season without former No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney (performed in three games) and All-Pro running back Arian Foster (performed in four games). Clearly Watt’s contributions are immensely greater, however, with Clowney now completely healthy and the looming return of vocal leader Brian Cushing, there’s no shortage of playmakers for Houston on defense.

Cushing, who should return to the lineup soon from his Week 1 departure, made it clear that the team has not broken and observed a positive atmosphere despite losing Watt.

“Very upbeat; very upbeat,” Cushing said in regards to the locker room. “This is the National Football League, you got to get over stuff quick. This team has a ton of talent. We’ve prepared really the whole preseason without J.J., we know what it’s like. Obviously we’re losing a key player but other guys need to step up. It’s not going to be one guy; it’s collectively going to be a group effort. Everyone’s got to pick their game up a little bit. We feel we have a very good defense and we’ll continue to go forward with that.”

With the current situation of the AFC South being as it is and no clear-cut frontrunner, Houston’s got just as good a shot as the next squad. The team still has to turn the page in regards to their Week 3 blowout, but as far as their season goes, the Texans’ chances are equal to any team at this stage.

After their previous outing, there are certainly facets of their game they’ll need to correct, of course. Right now the offense seems to be a shaky project and the defense, obviously, needs to find their own identity beyond Watt, but don’t bet against the team knocking on the door come playoff time.

Houston’s first opportunity to showcase they’ve got the stones to carry the load minus Watt will be versus a divisional opponent in the Tennessee Titans.

“As far as last week, we’re over that already,” Cushing said. “We were over that Friday morning. It’s just one of those things, you just got to turn the page. That’s the beauty of it, you play a game next week and get the taste out of your mouth and go get a win.”

And a win for Houston post-Watt news would be just what the doctor ordered.

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