By John P. Lopez
There have been moments in his six NFL seasons, when J.J. Watt looked like he could do whatever he wanted on a football field.
Sacks? Of course. Pass break-ups? Forced-fumbles? Tackles for loss anywhere up-and-down the line of scrimmage? Touchdowns? Receptions?
Yes, yes, yes, yes and yes.
And, often, because of his immense ability, Watt in fact was allowed to do exactly that — anything he wanted.
While defensive coaches otherwise would scream in anger when players dared forsake responsibility for instinct or free-lancing, Watt was given rein because, of course, he was J.J.
He was a one-man terror so gifted at his craft that only twice over the most-dominant four-year stretch of his career did a teammate even come within 13-sacks of his season totals. Over that same stretch, Watt became the face of the NFL, led the league in sacks three times, won AP Defensive Player Of The Year three times, averaged 17-sacks per season and was a perennial All-Pro.
He even earned his own shoe brand and became maybe the most sought-after marketing icon that his game knew.
Yet for all his efforts, with Watt on the field the Texans won exactly two playoff games and never sniffed a Super Bowl.
It all sounds so familiar. It also is why Texans fans — and J.J. — should hope that from this point forward Watt’s career-path follows a track similar to the last supernova who took his game by storm.
Turn less into more. Rein it in just a touch. Trust the huge upgrade to the supporting cast and, in essence, settle for the occasional assist.
Over a four-year stretch from 1986-1990, Michael Jordan became an icon, won four scoring titles, three MVPs, averaged a head-spinning 34.5 points per game and branded Air Jordans to the top of the shoe game. But he never won an NBA championship.
It was not until Jordan was surrounded by all-star caliber talent and tempered his scoring game ever so slightly that he won, and won, and won four more championships. Over the course of his final three NBA Championship seasons, Jordan averaged five fewer points, but two more assists per game than when he burst onto the scene in the late-1980s.
While ever-dominant, Jordan never again averaged 34-, 35- and 37-points per game. But then, he never had to.
Perhaps this is the year, then, that a Jordan-esque transformation of J.J. Watt leads to better days for all.
He can dominate, as always, yet never again have to carry every Texans hope on his shoulders. He can consistently hit double-digit sacks and be a perennial all-pro, but be better-served tossing a few dimes in another direction.
Whitney Mercilus is in his prime and looks as ready for a double-digit sack season as ever. Jadeveon Clowney is reaching dominant levels and figures to most benefit from the attention J.J. Watt draws from double-teams and holding the edge on the other side of the line. The quarterback situation, at minimum, should be marginally better than the Fitzy-Hoyer-Brock days of angst and agony.
Maybe Watt never again will average more than 20-sacks in a season. Maybe he’ll never have to.