Texans hope Watt can be difference-maker vs. Bills

Field Level Media

January 01, 2020 at 8:37 am.

The return of Houston defensive end J.J. Watt from the injured reserve list serves as the most noteworthy subplot in the Texans’ AFC wild-card game against the visiting Buffalo Bills, a fitting development considering the role both defenses will play on Saturday.

Watt, a three-time Defensive Player of the Year, missed the final eight games of the regular season with a torn pectoral muscle but returned to practice last week and was officially activated Tuesday. Watt will play his part for the AFC South champs even if the extent is undetermined.

“He’s been serious, all business,” Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson said of Watt. “Been competing with us, with my cadence and with the right tackle, left tackle, wherever they place him. So, it’s been good to see him out there participating and back in the mix.”

The Texans (10-6) will certainly welcome back Watt, even in a limited capacity. They have scuffled on defense this season, ranking 28th in total defense and 19th in points allowed — last among the AFC playoff teams.

Houston tied for last in yards surrendered per play (6.1), a byproduct of an inability to pressure opposing quarterbacks plus an avalanche of injuries in the secondary.

Those injury concerns remain for Houston, with cornerbacks Johnathan Joseph and Bradley Roby limited in practice due to hamstring woes. Safety Jahleel Addae (Achilles) was also limited on Tuesday, but with Watt potentially able to wreak havoc, the Texans stand positioned to disrupt the timing of second-year Bills quarterback Josh Allen, who will make his first postseason start.

Allen will be under scrutiny, but with Buffalo making just its second playoff appearance since 1999, the entire Bills roster will be under a microscope.

“(We hope) that he keeps his consistent, routine-line approach,” Bills head coach Sean McDermott said of Allen. “For our whole team, that’s important for us, that we continue to focus internally on what we’ve got to do and how we’ve got to do it in terms of what it’s going to take to win this game.

“I think overall people try to exploit young players around the league, whether it’s quarterbacks or other players. So we’ve just got to have a good week of preparation and be focused.”

Watson has the edge in postseason experience over Allen by one start, but he will undoubtedly face the more imposing defense on Saturday.

Buffalo finished the season second in scoring defense, third in total defense and fourth in yards allowed per play (4.8). The Bills are physical and bruising, precisely the type of defense the Texans struggled against while fielding an offense laden with talent but defined by inconsistent performances.

Some of those issues can be linked to Watson, who dazzled en route to a second consecutive Pro Bowl nod while also occasionally holding onto the ball far too often and contributing to the 44 times he was sacked this season.

Most team’s fortunes are intrinsically linked to the play of their quarterbacks; Houston is no different. However, Watson presents an extreme example, and against a Bills defense that recorded seven sacks of Watson while forcing him into three turnovers in a Houston win during the 2018 regular season, the onus is on the Texans to play with precision on offense.

“You’ve got to earn every yard you make,” Texans coach Bill O’Brien said. “They’re very disciplined, they’re very good at what they do. You have to be disciplined. You’ve got to do a lot of things that are basic, fundamental football. You’ve got to take care of the football, you’ve got to really just eliminate mistakes, you have to be able to drive the ball.

“They just do a lot of things well. So, you have to be very disciplined and you’ve got to really get out there and earn everything you get. They’re a top-five defense for a reason.”

The Bills are hopeful that defensive end Shaq Lawson (hamstring) will play in Houston. Cornerback Levi Wallace (ankle) did not participate in practice on Tuesday, leaving his status in doubt and potentially elevating former Texans cornerback Kevin Johnson on the depth chart.

Johnson, a 2015 first-round pick of Houston, is intimately familiar with the Texans’ offense. He knows better than anyone the challenge that awaits Buffalo in Houston this weekend.

“That’s the NFL,” Johnson said. “It’s playoff football, and we’ve got to be able to execute.”