J.J. Watt Continues Ascension As League's Best Defensive Player Against Jets

J.J. Watt shaped another game with his big mitts Monday night. The Jets put together a valiant effort in East Rutherford, falling just 23-17. Sure, it took a touchdown drive coming off a Matt Schaub interception and a 100 yard Joe McKnight kickoff return, but moral victories are moral victories.

And it could have been a real victory if not for Watt. His involvement was constant once again, as Watt was at least a part of eight successful plays for the Texans defense -- tied for the week high and a whopping 14% of the 57 plays the Jets ran in total.

Watt ran away with the week high in +WPA with 0.57, a result of his pervasive dominance to be sure but mostly coming from one swing play at the end of the first half, a tipped Mark Sanchez pass deflected right into the waiting hands of Texans cornerback Brice McCain. The Jets were 12 yards away from a tying touchdown; instead, McCain's 86-yard return set up a Texans field goal for a 10-point halftime lead.

That play alone generated 9.37 expected points for Houston and gave them a huge +30% win probability. It is the definition of a gamechanger. And this type of performance from Watt is nothing new:

Watt is one of the best defensive ends in the league across multiple categories -- he already has 10 sacks and 11 tackles for loss in just five weeks of play. But where he really stands out -- not just this season, but historically -- is with his ability to disrupt the passing game from the line of scrimmage. Watt is tied for the league lead in pass deflections with eight. Not among defensive ends or defensive linemen. Among all defensive players.

Watt's three pass deflections Monday night made him the 38th defensive lineman since 2000 (as far back as we have the data) to record at least eight in a season. His season is five games old. According to our data, Richard Seymour owns the record with 12 deflections for New England in 2003. Watt has 11 games to knock down five more passes.

And this is just one part of his wide-ranging defensive game. It brings a depth rarely seen at the position and has turned Watt into by far the most productive defensive player in the league this season. He is running away with the +EPA lead -- 49.7 to Tim Jennings's 32.7. He's making plays that add up to nearly a touchdown and a field goal every week. He's a huge part of why the Texans are the second-best team in our efficiency ratings, and at this rate, Watt just may be en route to the biggest season by a defensive player we will ever see.

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5 Responses to “J.J. Watt Continues Ascension As League's Best Defensive Player Against Jets”

  1. James says:

    MVP!

  2. Anonymous says:

    If we're ever going to see a defensive player win the MVP again, this might well be it. It would probably have to mean the Texans owning at least the best record in the AFC, and Foster (maybe Schaub too) dropping off somewhat while Watt continues his insane production.

  3. Alan says:

    I enjoyed watching him this week. The TV commentators really focussed on him, and displayed a number of impressive stats as well as showing how his vertical leap would allow him to get up a foot and a half above the rim if he were on a basketball court.

    That finger-wagging move he makes is not original (reminds me of what Dikembe Mutumbo used to do after blocking shots in the NBA, and I'm sure he wasn't the first); but it's an effective way to intimidate QBs and fire up his team and fans without overdoing it.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Only 4 offensive players have EPA > 49, all of them quarterbacks, naturally. Ryan, Brees, Roethlisberger, Peyton.

  5. Ryan S. Kelley says:

    Watt is so far ahead of the competition it's truly phenomenal.

    He's a 3-4 end that stuffs the run like Justin Smith, rushes the quarterback like Julius Peppers, and swats the ball better than Jason Pierre-Paul. He has it all, Size, strength, speed, motor, and aggression. What a monster.

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