To say that Watt is the best defensive player in the league based on his league-leading 9.5 sacks from the 3-4 defensive end position is underselling him. Watt has had an elite-level impact on the Houston Texans defense in both the passing and running game.
Watt has disrupted nine passes this season (six passes defended and three tipped interceptions to teammates), one behind Chicago Bears cornerback Tim Jennings for the league lead. The rest of the top 16 players in the category are defensive backs.
Watt also has taken down quarterbacks better than anyone else this season. Combine that with his ability to knock down passes, and it’s clear how much of an impact Watt has had on the opposition’s passing game.Watt’s 9.5 sacks plus his nine passes disrupted gives him 19 plays where he has single-handedly ruined what the offense has tried to do. The next-closest player is Seahawks defensive end Chris Clemons (11), and Watt has more than three times as many as the closest 3-4 defensive end (Arizona Cardinals’ Calais Campbell, who has six). More than seven percent of all dropbacks the Texans have faced this season were disrupted by Watt.
It’s not just the passing game. Watt has made a significant impact on the running game as well, both through individual plays and his effect on the unit overall.
Watt has recorded 7.5 tackles for loss this season, tied with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Lavonte David for the league lead. David is the weak-side linebacker in the Buccaneers’ 4-3 defensive scheme, a position far more conducive to disrupting runs in the backfield than Watt’s 3-4 end spot. No other Texans defensive lineman has a tackle for loss this season.
Another way to examine what Watt’s presence means is to look at what happens when he’s not out there. The Texans are allowing 3.7 yards per rush on 117 attempts with Watt on the field this season, compared to 4.5 yards per rush on 32 attempts with him off the field. Watt’s presence is enough to turn the Texans’ rush defense statistically from the Cleveland Browns (4.5 yards per rush, 25th in the league) to the Seattle Seahawks (3.7 yards per rush, fifth in the league).
Eight times this season a quarterback has had at least 30 action plays and a Total QBR under 5.0. It’s no accident that three of those eight games came against the Texans, the only defense on the list multiple times. Any discussion of why the unit has been so successful this year begins with Watt, the early favorite for Defensive Player of the Year.