NFL morning after: J.J. Watt for MVP

AP

Andrew Luck threw for nearly 400 yards and Aaron Rodgers was almost perfect against the Bears and Steve Smith had a huge game against his old team on Sunday. But the NFL’s best player was Texans defensive tackle J.J. Watt.

And so I’d like to begin my J.J. Watt for MVP campaign right now.

It may be ridiculous to start talking about a Most Valuable Player when we’re just a quarter of the way through the season, but I want to begin this campaign early because as Watt’s self-appointed campaign manager, I’ve got an uphill climb. The overwhelming majority of NFL MVPs have been quarterbacks and running backs. The last defensive player to win the MVP was Lawrence Taylor in 1986, and the only time a defensive lineman won the award was when Minnesota’s Alan Page got it in 1971. The 50 MVP voters appointed by the Associated Press have a clear bias toward the offensive skill positions, and that bias is going to be tough to overcome.

But if Watt isn’t an MVP candidate, then we might as well say no defensive player is ever going to be an MVP candidate. All Watt does is change games, week after week. On Sunday against the Bills, Watt picked off an EJ Manuel pass and raced 80 yards for a touchdown in a play that completely turned the game around: At the time the Bills led 10-7 and were driving deep into Texans territory, looking poised to take a 17-7 lead. Instead, Watt’s touchdown gave Houston a 14-10 lead over Buffalo, a lead the Texans would not relinquish the rest of the way. Watt also had another pass deflection, and he put constant pressure on, hitting Manuel a whopping nine times. (Quarterback hits are an unofficial statistic, but a pass rusher who gets two or three of them in a game is having a big day. Nine in a game is ridiculous.)

What’s really amazing about Watt is that he’s a great player every week. Even though opposing teams are constantly game planning to stop him, to double team him, to run away from him, to throw quick passes so the quarterback can get rid of the ball before he collapses the pocket, Watt finds a way to disrupt the game. He won’t have nine quarterback hits and an 80-yard interception return for a touchdown every week, but he’ll do something great every week. One week he’ll have a couple sacks, another week he’ll have a forced fumble, the week after that he’ll knock down three passes. And sometimes he’ll do things you’d never expect, like catch a touchdown pass. He’s already done that once this year, and the Texans’ coaches have said they’ll continue using him as a goal-line tight end. (Watt and former Patriot Mike Vrabel are the only players since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger to have both a touchdown catch and an interception return for a touchdown in the same season.)

So is it realistic to think Watt could win an MVP? It’s a long shot, but this might be the right season for it. It doesn’t look like any quarterback is going to approach the statistical totals that Peyton Manning reached last year, and although DeMarco Murray is off to a great start, I don’t think he has the durability to approach 2,000 yards. That means it’s a good year for someone at some other position to stake a claim to the MVP award. And with Watt being a disruptive presence on the defensive line while the 3-1 Texans occupy first place in the AFC South, there’s no better option than Watt.

Watt was my favorite player on the field on Sunday. Here are my other thoughts:

The Jets’ play calling makes no sense. On the first drive of Sunday’s game in New York, Chris Ivory was amazing: He ran nine times for 51 yards against a Detroit rush defense that previously hadn’t allowed any running back to gain 50 yards in an entire game all season. So, clearly, Jets offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg had found something that worked and would stick with it, right? Wrong. Mornhinweg instead abandoned Ivory and didn’t call for him to run the ball even once on the Jets’ next two drives, both of which would go three-and-out. In the end, Ivory ran the ball just eight more times the rest of the game after that phenomenal performance on the first drive. Lions fans know all too well how many blunders Mornhinweg makes because Mornhinweg was the Lions’ head coach for two years in which Detroit went 5-27. Now the Lions have benefited from Mornhinweg’s mistakes.

Celebration flags are cheap. NFL players need to know the rules about excessive celebrations, and Texans receiver DeAndre Hopkins should have known not to go to the ground to celebrate his touchdown on Sunday. Still, it’s kind of ridiculous that in the NFL, a minor celebration like the one Hopkins made after his score is a 15-yard penalty — the same penalty a player gets for a serious offense like taking a cheap shot that injures an opposing player. The NFL should cool it with the celebration penalties. Instead of giving 15-yard penalties for a quick celebration, make it a five-yard delay of game penalty if the player carries on with his celebration while the officials are trying to spot the ball for the next play, and if the celebration doesn’t delay the next play, then don’t penalize it. The rules of the No Fun League go too far.

Ryan Tannehill got what he needed. After a week in which Tannehill was threatened with the possibility of a benching, he responded with a big game, completing 23 of 31 passes for 278 yards, with two touchdowns, one interception and no sacks, in a 38-14 win over the Raiders. You might say he needed the threat of being benched to motivate him to play well. I’d say what he really needed was to play a bad team like the Raiders.

A game without a punt. Sunday’s Packers-Bears game was just the second regular-season game in NFL history without a single punt by either team. I still remember the first as one of the greatest games I ever watched, a 1992 Bills-49ers classic matching Hall of Fame quarterbacks Jim Kelly and Steve Young. This Packers-Bears game, however, wasn’t a particularly good one. Jay Cutler threw two interceptions that made Bears fans wish they had punted, and Green Bay blew Chicago out in the fourth quarter.

Cam Newton is not the same. Newton, who has been dealing with ankle and rib injuries, just isn’t the same player as he was when healthy during his first three seasons. Newton averaged 677 rushing yards a season during his first three years. This year, Newton has just 33 yards a quarter of the way through the season. When Newton isn’t a threat running the ball it’s easier to rein him in as a passer, and as a result Newton is on pace for career lows in touchdown passes and passing yards as well. After Sunday’s 38-10 loss to the Ravens, the Panthers have now been blown out two weeks in a row. They need the Cam Newton of old, and they need him soon.

Devin Hester continues to amaze. Hester continued to show that he’s more than just a kick returner for the Falcons on Sunday, catching five passes for 70 yards and a touchdown. But the reason he’s a future Hall of Famer is that he’s the greatest return man in history, and even though he didn’t break any long returns on Sunday, he affects the game when he doesn’t touch the ball because opposing teams are so concerned about kicking away from him that they kick the ball short. Vikings coach Mike Zimmer told the FOX broadcast team, “We don’t want it anywhere near Devin Hester,” and the Vikings’ first punt went just 24 yards as a result.

The NFL continues to surprise. When the Eagles lost to the 49ers on Sunday, it left just two teams — the inactive Bengals and Cardinals — undefeated. It seems like we say this every year, but this might be the craziest NFL season yet. Maybe even crazy enough for a defensive tackle to win MVP.

58 responses to “NFL morning after: J.J. Watt for MVP

  1. Yeah,

    so DeMarco Murray has 536 yards rushing so far in 4 games… That’s on pace for 2144 yards in 16 games, which, you know, would be a new NFL record…

    Just sayin’

  2. “so DeMarco Murray has 536 yards rushing so far in 4 games… That’s on pace for 2144 yards in 16 games, which, you know, would be a new NFL record…”

    But DeMarco is going to let the award slip through his fingers…

    I’ve already been writing that J.J. should be the MVP so I’m not going to back down now.

  3. I was thinking that same thing yesterday about Watt.
    His performances thus far have been game-changing.
    He’s definitely played MVP-calibre through the quarterpole of this season. If he keeps performing at or exceeds his current level, then why not him??

  4. Two years ago i took an unfortunate bathroom break, and heard the biggest noise I’ve ever heard in Houston. You couldn’t even hear the radio playback in the men’s room. Yes, I missed the pick on Andy Dalton for six! Well, yesterday I was frustrated with the Texans and took a bathroom break. Yep, I was taking a whizz and heard the exact same sound. I knew what happened and cursed my bladder.

  5. What’s equally impressive is that Watt isn’t getting the “superstar treatment” from the refs where they look the other way if he goes low at a QB, or when guys hit him below the knees in a run block, or when an offensive player DIVES on him after the play is over IN FRONT of the ref !
    There’s holding on every play in the games, but some are so blatant, it’s not even funny.

    A DEFENSIVE END ran back an interception 80 YARDS for a touchdown!
    Man, that is insane!!!

  6. The celebration rules are ridiculous. Unless it is blatant taunting, allow the players to celebrate. Fans love it and emotion is part of the game. If the opposing team doesn’t like it, keep them out of the end zone.

  7. Watch the tape from the Texans-Giants game. Watt made a few highlight plays, but was otherwise invisible for the game. While the Texans were giving up over 175 yards rushing to a journeyman RB, behind a makeshift offensive line.

  8. Watt is an amazing football player. I’d vote for him as first 1/4 MVP.

    Not a good actor though. That Verizon commercial is painful to watch, lol.

    Marty and the Jets. How does that clown keep getting work in the NFL? He’s horrible!

    Celebration penalties. I’m not a fan of overblown celebrations but I’m even less of a fan of penalizing a team for something having nothing to do with the game. If it delays the game, call a delay penalty but other than that the 15 yards is a horrible rule.

    Cam Newton. He’s a running QB who now can’t run. Of course he’s not any good now. This shouldn’t be a surprise. You don’t let a guy run free and only try to develop him into a real pocket passer after he’s injured. Blame Panthers management, not Cam. He is what he is at this point.

  9. Watt had a great game against my Bills yesterday…he should also get MVP for going for the QB knees the most times…..

  10. ravenswhat says: Sep 29, 2014 6:59 AM

    He’s the only player in recent memory to immediately begin outplaying his new contract.

    ———————-

    Pretty much. There aren’t enough contracts they can give this guy. Matter as well pay him on a game by game basis as his over all value raises per game.

  11. I think what Cam needs is a little Steve Smith….and maybe Jordan Gross….or one of his RB’s to stay healthy beyond 5 carries….

    I was insanely wrong in how I thought Cam’s career would turn out. Superman would struggle to move this offense and based on sheer fear of what Cam could do to them this group of journeymen and never weres are scoring at least enough to win some games. The kid is impressive despite his flaws.

  12. Injuries aside, Panthers management put Cam at a disadvantage. Steve Smith showed his old team yesterday what he was worth and it’s easy to see why Netwon isn’t the same anymore: he has no one to throw the ball too.

  13. After four games this season, Steve Smith has as many multi-TD games with Joe Flacco as he had in three years with Cam Newton.

    Flacco gonna have MVP season taking the Ravens back to the Super Bowl. Watch

  14. As good as his stats are, you don’t really get the full picture of JJ Watt’s impact unless you watch the entire games. He is in the backfield all the time creating havoc and disrupting plays, even if he isn’t getting the tackle or some other stat.

  15. As a Texans fan we will see if JJ Watt will be a MVP candidate as he will go again Murray and Luck in the next two weeks. Lets hope he will play like a MVP candidate in the next two weeks

  16. Carolina Panthers earn the “Embrace The Suck” award for a total collapse in all phases of the game which has resulted in huge embarrassing blowouts two weeks in a row. Congratulations to the geniuses in the Carolina front office.

  17. Aaron Rodgers did play a nearly perfect game, but Coach T could have run the Bears D better than what we saw at Soldier Field yesterday. That unit is a complete mess, and until and unless they get their act together on that side of the ball, the Bears are not contenders.

  18. Giants ran right at him and R. Jennings ran for 165 yeards.

    Might be saying ELI for MVP soon ( if he can keep it up)

  19. In the second game, J.J. Watt had no defensive statistics at all. I’m sure he affected the game with how he was blocked, but that was weird. Of course, he made up for it by catching a touchdown pass.

  20. So far Philip Rivers has earned NFL MVP. What he’s done is impressive because the Chargers have no running game (last in the league) so it isn’t like defenses are unsure what he’s going to do with the ball.

    Not to take anything away from Watt, but Rivers is being asked to do so much more.

  21. In Teddy We Trust says:
    Sep 29, 2014 11:27 AM

    In the second game, J.J. Watt had no defensive statistics at all. I’m sure he affected the game with how he was blocked, but that was weird. Of course, he made up for it by catching a touchdown pass.
    _________________________

    Go check his stats from the first game….
    Something like
    1.5 sacks
    3 TFL
    Blocked XP
    Batted pass (on 3rd down)

    Dude is a BEAST! He has one of the highest motors I’ve ever seen. Never takes a play off.

  22. I second this. Guy is a beast, and he changes games. If defense wins championships, as so many people say, then it’s time for another defensive MVP. Shut you down!

    #Youwannatakeanap?

  23. The comment on Newton makes it clear you don’t actually watch the games. Newton would be able to run if there wasn’t a defender on him constantly, as well as having a rb stay healthy behind him. He was scrambling pretty good in the backfield against the ravens for the first time this year but you can’t do it every play and be effective. He has been throwing it pretty good this year, and if he had even atlanta’s O-line, we would have a chance. Until then Newton can not bring the offense out of it’s funk alone.

  24. JJ Watt is the best player in the NFL–not just at his position. He works hard every play and disrupts the game on many levels. Many pass rushers go all-out to get the QB, but Watt goes about it in a smart way. He sees the QB about to throw and he tries to jump in the throwing lane to swat the ball. Others would still go for the sack they can’t get. He could have done what countless others have done after getting a new big contract. He could have slowed down a bit and under-performed. Instead, he got better. How can you not like this guy? It will be hard to get MVP as a defensive player but if he maintains this kind of game impact there is no reason to believe he isn’t worthy.

  25. It’s the production he gets from the position that makes him special. Speaking of motor, he was flat hauling on that TD return….

  26. when Houston finished 5-11 or 6-10 will he still be your MVP?? C’mon man

    Watt is great, there’s no denying that. But he will not be the MVP

  27. I like the thought of JJ Watts as MVP.

    I also bet that John Brown of the Arizona Cardinals will be the offensive Rookie of the Year. He is a 5’9″ WR that runs a 4.34 40. He has changed and won games for the Cardinals.

  28. 8to80texansblog says:
    Sep 29, 2014 11:50 AM
    In Teddy We Trust says:
    Sep 29, 2014 11:27 AM

    In the second game, J.J. Watt had no defensive statistics at all. I’m sure he affected the game with how he was blocked, but that was weird. Of course, he made up for it by catching a touchdown pass.
    _________________________

    Go check his stats from the first game….
    Something like
    1.5 sacks
    3 TFL
    Blocked XP
    Batted pass (on 3rd down)

    Dude is a BEAST! He has one of the highest motors I’ve ever seen. Never takes a play off.
    ________

    Yeah, I know he did well in the first game. I think I said I was talking about the second game?

  29. Lost in the game was the fact that on Manuel’s last throw, the interception to Morris, he was actually hit as he threw the ball – by Watt. That was his 9th QB hit of the day, and it sealed the game.

  30. km2266 says:
    Sep 29, 2014 8:53 AM
    Watch the tape from the Texans-Giants game. Watt made a few highlight plays, but was otherwise invisible for the game. While the Texans were giving up over 175 yards rushing to a journeyman RB, behind a makeshift offensive line.
    —————————————–
    And he still had a sack and a few pressures, which shows what a “bad game” looks like for him.

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