J.J. Watt was a limited participant during Wednesday’s practice, his first practice in over two months after undergoing surgery to repair a torn pectoral muscle midway through the season. The previous day, the Texans‘ five-time All-Pro pass rusher was activated from injured reserve, paying the way for him to play in Saturday’s game against the visiting Bills in the wild-card round.
While they are not sure how much they expect to get out of their star defender, Texans defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel laid out his hopes for Watt, who will try to help Houston’s defense stop a Bills offense that finished eighth in the NFL in rushing during the regular season.
“I’d like to get some pass-rushing reps out of him,” Crennel said, via John McClain of the Houston Chronicle. “You’re looking at third down and two-minute, and we’ll see after that.”
While he acknowledged that Watt is in good shape, Crennel said that he and the Texans’ defensive staff will monitor Watt’s endurance level throughout the course of Saturday’s game. Watt added that while he will look to feed off his adrenaline, he also stressed the importance of not burning himself out too quickly.
“For me, it’s about balance and harnessing that energy and that excitement, but at the same time, remaining calm and focused on the task at hand and not letting it get away,” Watt said.
Watt, who will be making his fifth postseason appearance (he was out with an injury when the Texans advanced to the division round of the playoffs in 2016), is looking to aid a Texans defense that allowed 156.7 yards rushing and 5.33 yards per carry in the eight games he missed this season. Conversely, Houston was fifth in the league in fewest yards allowed in the eight games Watt appeared in during the regular season.
“J.J. is good on runs to him and runs away from him,” Crennel said of Watt, a three-time Defensive Player of the Year. “They don’t think he can catch them from behind, but he’s able to do that with his intensity, length and speed. If you had a healthy J.J., you’d have to say the run defense would improve.”
Watt and his teammates will be facing a Buffalo offense that is centered on running backs Devin Singletary, Frank Gore and quarterback Josh Allen. The rookie Singletary led the way with 775 yards while averaging 5.1 yards per carry. Gore, the NFL’s third all-time leading rusher, complemented Singletary with 559 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Allen, along with throwing 20 touchdowns against just nine interceptions, rushed for 510 yards and a team-high nine touchdowns.
“That’s a big challenge,” Crennel said of the prospect of stopping Buffalo’s trio of Singletary, Gore and Allen. “We have to do a good job of containing (Allen). If you do a good job of containing the quarterback, then that will help everybody along that front.”
If he didn’t need any more motivation to play well on Saturday, T.J. Watt, J.J.’s younger brother who is coming off his second Pro Bowl season as the Steelers‘ starting left outside linebacker, will be in Houston to cheer his big brother on.
“I’m really excited to have (T.J.) down here,” said Watt, who also said that his other brother, Chargers fullback Derek Watt, won’t be able to get to Houston as he has a young child and a dog to take care of at home. “Get a chance to see him, hang out and have him at the game will be nice. Been able to watch him all season long since I’ve been out and watch him play at an unbelievably high level. So it’s been a joy for me to be able to watch him and Derek play … It’s been a joy for me to be able to watch both of them play, and I’m excited to have T.J. here this week being able to watch me.”