The Houston Texans are preparing for the upcoming battle against the New England Patriots on Sunday night, a game that could have a major impact on the playoff race. Head coach/de facto general manager, Bill O'Brien, is also preparing for a potential return by an important player. Defensive end JJ Watt could actually return to the Texans after being placed on Injured Reserve.
According to NFL insider Ian Rapoport, the three-time Defensive Player of the Year is actually closer to a comeback than many initially expected. Watt originally tore his pec in late October and was placed on Injured Reserve. He responded by saying that he was "gutted" at not being able to finish the season with his teammates. However, the Texans are reportedly saving their final designated to return spot for Watt.
The Texans used one of the two spots to recently bring back tight end Jordan Thomas, but the second is still free. If Watt is indeed recovering faster than expected, he will be eligible to return for the playoffs if needed. The earliest that he could return is in week 17.
Prior to tearing his pec, Watt was returning to the form that made him a perennial Pro Bowl talent. He had four sacks in eight games, as well as 20 quarterback hits. This number was among the league's best for more than half of the season, and Watt is still eighth in the league in QB hits despite only playing in seven games.
Without Watt in the lineup, the Texans have struggled to generate consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks, which was evident during a blowout loss to the Baltimore Ravens. Houston is currently 20th in the league in yards allowed per game (367.3), and they have a mere 22 sacks.
"Like I said last night, no one person is going to take the spot of a Hall-of-Fame player, but at the end of the day, these things happen and we've got to move forward and do what we have to do to win games," coach Bill O'Brien said after Watt's injury. "That's what we're going to do, we're going to do the best we can to put the players in the right position based on what their skill sets are and go try to win games."
Replacing Watt hasn't been a simple task, as O'Brien expected, but there is a scenario in which he could return in time for the playoffs. Of course, Houston will first have to defeat the New England Patriots on Sunday night and continue stacking wins in order to win the AFC South.
Photo Credit: Bob Levey/Getty