J.J. Watt shut out for first time in career four years after telling Saints to 'try somebody else at right tackle'
The Texans star was invisible against the Saints on 'Monday Night Football'
When was the last time you watched a Texans football game that involved a healthy J.J. Watt and forgot he was even playing? When was the last time Watt was invisible?
It might not have ever happened ever before, but it happened on Monday night, when the Saints pitched a shutout against Watt during . In a shootout, Watt failed to record a sack, a quarterback hit, or even a tackle. According to NFL Research, it was the first time in Watt's nine-year, 105-game career that he's gone hit-less and tackle-less in a game.
He was almost invisible. He doesn't show up once on the stat sheet.
"I didn't hear a lot of Watt's name," said Saints coach Sean Payton, per NOLA.com.
This is the same player who has racked up 92 sacks since his career began back in 2011, the second most in that span despite missing 24 games. Heck, just a year ago, in a return from injury, Watt erupted for 16 sacks over the course of a 16-game season.
This is also the same player who tallied three sacks in two previous matchups with the Saints. The last time they saw each other late in the 2015 season, Watt dragged down Drew Brees twice, leading him to tell the Saints during the game that they "might want to try somebody else at right tackle." Zach Strief, who retired before last season, was the Saints' right tackle at the time.
Matched up against Saints right tackle Ryan Ramczyk -- the final first-round pick of the 2017 NFL Draft -- and facing chips from tight ends for most of the evening, Watt failed to do much of anything as the Texans' defense got gouged by the Saints' high-powered offense.
"He's the best right tackle in football," said Saints left tackle Terron Armstead. "He's been putting the work in his whole career since the first day for these moments, these games and it paid dividends.
"We had a great plan for J.J., who is a great disruptive player, and a lot of parts going into it. But Ramczyk was definitely the primary. He was the focal point of that entire game plan and he went out and executed it."
This wasn't just a case of Brees getting the ball out quickly to negate the Texans' pass rush. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Brees held the ball for an average of 2.85 seconds before the ball came out. Only seven quarterbacks averaged a longer time to throw than Brees in Week 1.
Ramczyk fared well when left to his own devices against Watt. Watch the right side of the Saints' offensive line below, because Ramczyk stonewalled Watt until help arrived just as Brees released the ball.
(You can watch the replay, including in condensed and All-22 formats, with NFL Game Pass.)
But the Saints did do well to help him with chips, as you can see below.
"It's very frustrating, but that's something you have to deal with when you're in the position I'm in," Watt said, per the Associated Press. "You've got to find a way to get there, and tonight I didn't. I take that on me."
Ramczyk's worst moment came when he got called for holding Watt in the fourth quarter. So, in fairness to Watt, he did find a way to impact the game at a pivotal moment.
Then again, on the very next play, the Saints got Watt with a draw that saw Alvin Kamara fly past him, who was rushing the play as if it was a passing dropback instead of a delayed run. Ramczyk let Watt go, even pushing him farther into the backfield to discard him, and then turned his attention downfield as he cleared a path for Kamara.
But overall, the Saints mostly (and wisely) ran away from Watt. That run above was one of only two Kamara runs that went off the right tackle, as you can see below via Next Gen Stats. Almost everything else went to the left or up the gut.
Obviously, it's only one game. Nobody should panic. The Saints' offensive line is really good, ranking second in adjusted line yards (a run-blocking statistic) and third in pass protection a season ago, according to Football Outsiders. Just because Watt struggled against the Saints in Week 1 doesn't mean he's bound to struggle over the course of the entire season. Again, it's Week 1.
But it is concerning. It's concerning because Watt turned 30 in March. It's concerning because Watt has dealt with a litany of injuries over the past few seasons,It's concerning because the Texans' defense was already a stars-and-scrubs kind of unit and
If Watt's decline is underway (a very real possibility given his age and injury history), the Texans won't just be down Clowney. They'll also be lacking one of the greatest defensive players of the generation. For as much concern as the Texans' offensive line has generated due to its inability to provide Deshaun Watson with adequate protection, the Texans' defense has its own concerns.
The good news is that they get the Jaguars in Week 2, setting them up with a bounce-back opportunity. Rookie Jaguars right tackle Jawaan Taylor holds plenty of promise, but he's not Ryan Ramczyk -- at least not yet. And Jaguars quarterback Gardner Minshew II, , is not Drew Brees.
It just remains to be seen if J.J. Watt is still J.J. Watt.
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