J.J. Watt Injury Adds to Mounting Pressure on Texans QB Brock Osweiler

Brent Sobleski@@brentsobleskiNFL AnalystSeptember 28, 2016

FOXBORO, MA - SEPTEMBER 22:  J.J. Watt #99 of the Houston Texans looks on during the first half against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on September 22, 2016 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

Quarterback Brock Osweiler got a little more than he bargained for when he signed with the Houston Texans for four years and $72 million in free agency.

For too long, the Texans relied on defensive end J.J. Watt as their on-field general and primary playmaker. It's now Osweiler's turn to pick up the slack after the all-world defender re-injured his back, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport:

While the extent of the injury has yet to be revealed, Watt will likely end up on injured reserve, according to NFL Network's Mike Garafolo:

The injury couldn't come at a worse time for Osweiler, who hasn't looked like the franchise-caliber prospect the organization envisioned when it signed him.

In fact, the 6'8" gunslinger is coming off a terrible performance against the New England Patriots. Osweiler completed 24 of 41 passes for only 196 yards and threw one interception. The Arizona State product took full blame for the team's 27-0 loss.

"I think any time an offense struggles with developing a rhythm, struggles with scoring points, I think the first thing you have to examine is the quarterback," Osweiler said, per ESPN.com's Sarah Barshop. "I'll take the blame for this one.

"Any time a team doesn't score points, it's on me," he said.

He added: "I need to play better so I can give this team an opportunity to win ballgames like this."

HOUSTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 11: Brock Osweiler #17 of the Houston Texans calls an audible against the Chicago Bears in the second half at NRG Stadium on September 11, 2016 in Houston, Texas. Texans won 23 to 14. (Photo by Thomas B. Shea/Getty Images)
Thomas B. Shea/Getty Images

Prior to the Patriots contest, Osweiler didn't exactly set the NFL on fire. Against the Chicago Bears and Kansas City Chiefs, he completed 60.3 percent of his passes for 499 yards and three touchdowns with three interceptions. Overall, the Texans rank 24th in total offense and 27th in passing offense.

But Houston is in need of a new rudder to steer its ship.

Watt's long-term status remains in question. The three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year originally required surgery for a herniated disk on July 20.

The Wisconsin product is ultra-competitive and his work ethic is legendary, yet he'll be questioned about whether he rushed back from a serious injury.

When a lineman has back problems, concerns extend beyond typical wear and tear. A defensive end torques his core and back on every play.

"I don't think back pain conditions are going to explode like concussions since the diagnostic methods are already pretty accurate and sophisticated," then-Rams team physician Dr. Matthew Matava said in a 2012 interview with the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's John Harris. "However, back pain will always be a fact of life for the NFL."

Back pain might be expected, but it only worsens over time.

This leaves the door open to myriad possibilities, including one posed by former NFL offensive lineman and SiriusXM NFL Radio host Ross Tucker:

No trip to Watt's magical cabin is going to rectify his injury predicament. He needs time to heal and allow his body to properly recover. Even if this workout warrior eases up, there's no guarantee he'll return as the player who dominated games and became the new face of Papa John's.

Instead, the onus of leading the Texans for the rest of the season and possibly beyond falls on Osweiler. The NFL is a quarterback-driven league, and his play was already important to the team's success.

Now, his plight is magnified.

Watt's status doesn't automatically bury Houston. At his best, no one is better, but he hasn't been at his best this season and the Texans are still 2-1.

Pro Football Focus graded Watt as the 74th-best interior defender through three games. Obviously, this year's performance has been a far cry from those previously seen from the four-time All-Pro.

Despite his numbers, there's a distinct difference between Houston's play with Watt in the lineup and without him, per NFL Research:

This only adds to the pressure on Osweiler as the team strives to capture another AFC South crown and make the playoffs for the fourth time in six seasons. The journey continues on Sunday against a division rival, the Tennessee Titans.

Houston's trek will be difficult, though. After the Titans contest, the Texans must navigate a three-game stretch against the Minnesota Vikings, Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos. That trio owns a combined record of 7-2.

Osweiler has been given a head start as he's being asked to morph into the franchise's new face. Houston already holds a one-game division lead. It's early in the process with a difficult schedule looming, but the team has won without its quarterback or Watt playing to expected levels.

Watt can't be replaced, but Bill O'Brien's squad can still rely on Vince Wilfork, Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus.

It falls on Osweiler to realize his potential, take command and lead the Texans to another playoff berth—with or without the team's best player.


Brent Sobleski covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @brentsobleski.


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