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How does J.J. Watt's injury affect the Houston Texans' playoff chances?

Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

On Tuesday three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt was placed on the Houston Texans’ injured reserve after injuring his back that he initially hurt this past offseason. This is a big loss for a team playing in a competitive AFC South division and for a team that relies on a dominant defense to win them games. The question to consider is how this will affect the Texans playoff hopes.

Since being drafted by the Texans in 2011, Watt has been on a Hall of Fame trajectory career. In 83 games, Watt has 379 tackles and 76 sacks. He has been a massive part of the defense which has helped make Houston a quality team the past few years.

As in past years, the success of the Texans so far this season has been because of the defense. Through three games, Houston has allowed the fifth least yards and ranks seventh in points allowed per game. Their offense has only 979 yards of offense which is the ninth worst if football and they are dead last in points scored per game at 14.

Given how the team is set up, losing Watt might be the worst thing that could have happened. He makes the rest of the defense better. His constant pressure on the quarterback forces the quarterback to make more mistakes. He also makes his defense lineman teammates’ jobs easier since he is sometimes double-teamed on blocking which means less players to block his teammates .

The advanced numbers make the loss of Watt measurable. Expected Points Added (EPA) is a stat that was created by ESPN which assigns expected points values to a team based on the situation of the game. ESPN says that “Expected points (EP) accounts for factors such as down, distance to go, field position, home-field advantage and time remaining.”

In the past three years, the difference in EPA per play with Watt on the field and when he is not is 0.09. According to ESPN, that translated to a difference in 5.6 points per game. That is a huge amount of points due to one play, especially one that does not play quarterback.

The defense will still be good without Watt. The problem is if the offense does not improve, the defense is not going to be dominant enough to win them many games.

The running game, led by Lamar Miller, despite ranking 13th in rushing yards, hasn’t been great. Quarterback Brock Osweiler has not yet been what the Texans were hoping for, putting up a 72.2 passer rating and only three touchdowns in three games.

The Texans’ remaining schedule is not too brutal, but unless there are improvements on the offense, it will be a struggle to win the AFC South or even make the playoffs.

The Texans are hoping that Watt can return towards the end of the season. There’s a chance that it may not matter by then. On the other hand, if they are already in a good playoff situation then that could make the Texans a scary team heading into the playoffs with the addition of Watt. 

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