Making the Case for Houston's J.J. Watt as the NFL's MVP

Rivers McCown@riversmccownNFL AnalystDecember 29, 2014

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J.J. Watt wasn't quite able to drag the quarterback-less Houston Texans by the skin of his teeth into the playoffs, as the Baltimore Ravens held out the Cleveland Browns to take the final AFC wild-card spot.

But in coming as close as he did, he put together a defensive season for the ages, one that certainly warrants MVP consideration in 2014, a year when none of the best quarterbacks in the NFL was able to separate himself from the pack.

Watt finished the season with 20.5 sacks, becoming the first player to ever reach the 20-sack plateau twice.

Matt Miller @nfldraftscout

ONE player in NFL history has had two 20 sack seasons: J.J. Watt

In doing so, Watt also put together a historic flourish to end the season. He sacked Blake Bortles three times in Houston's 23-17 win, becoming the first player in NFL history to score 11 sacks over the last five weeks of the season. If we scale the requirement back to 10, we get Reggie White in 1986. Nobody else had even reached 10.

J.J Watt, Weeks 13-17
WeekOpponentSacksQB HitsHurries (PFF)
13v. TEN264
14@ JAC352
15@ IND226
16v. BAL147
17v. JAC33Not yet available
Sources: NFL.com, Pro Football Focus

Yeah, era-adjusting and adjusting for how bad the Jacksonville Jaguars offensive line is lessen the impact of that statistic, but it's still a ridiculous stretch of play.  

Watt finished 1.5 sacks behind Kansas City edge-rusher Justin Houston for the NFL lead, but Watt also led the NFL in tackles for loss and spent much more of his time inside the formation than Houston, making his numbers more impressive in context. 

J.J. Watt versus Justin Houston
PlayerSacksTackles for LossQB Hits (PFF)Hurries (PFF)Team Pass Defense DVOA
J.J. Watt20.5294349-4.3% (8th)
Justin Houston22.0238535.7% (16th)
Sources: Football Outsiders, ESPN.com, Pro Football Focus
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The Texans were seventh in Football Outsiders' defensive DVOA coming into Week 17, where they held the Jaguars to 233 yards and 2.9 yards per pass. This is, frankly, also absurd. Cornerbacks Johnathan Joseph and Kareem Jackson had solid seasons when they were able to stay on the field, but outside of them, the Texans didn't even have any above-average players flanking Watt. 

Linebacker Brian Cushing's return from injury was, at times, a disaster. Safety D.J. Swearinger's sophomore season was riddled with blown assignments and instances of biting on play action. No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney, the player who was supposed to team with Watt to bring the Texans back to prominence, played 146 snaps before landing on injured reserve. 

Through Week 16, Houston's defense had just two players with a Pro Football Focus (subscription required) rating above plus-4.0: Jackson, at plus-9.4, and Watt, at plus-101.0. I'm not a huge fan of PFF's ratings, but that gulf matches what my eyes see: This unit would be flaming garbage without Watt. 

Ultimately, I am not the person who is going to flip couches and torch police cars if Watt doesn't win the NFL MVP award. Quarterback is the most important position in the NFL, and nothing proved that more than Houston's march to 2-14 last season even as Watt was working his magic. 

But if there were ever a defensive season worthy of the MVP award, this is the template it should follow. Aaron Rodgers had a dramatic return for the Green Bay Packers in Week 17, but that can't mask the fact that his play suffered down the stretch. No quarterback has flat-out claimed the award. No defensive player has come close to the season Watt did. 

Then you throw in more stats: Watt led the league in forced fumbles. Watt caught three touchdown passes on offense and led all defensive players with five touchdowns. His safety against the Jaguars made him the first player in NFL history to score via a safety, pick-six, fumble return and a receiving touchdown in the same season. 

Football Perspective @fbgchase

JJ Watt is the first player in NFL history with a receiving touchdown, FR touchdown, INT return TD, and safety in the same season.

Watt led fourth-string quarterback Case Keenum to two wins, as badly as Keenum tried to donate a win to the Jaguars in Week 17. If the voters can't recognize his value, they aren't watching the same games I am.

Rivers McCown is the AFC South lead writer for Bleacher Report and the co-host of the Three-Cone Drill podcast. His work has also appeared on Football Outsiders and ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter at @riversmccown.


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