J.J. Watt leads defense with dominant day

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J.J. Watt didn't get to play this preseason because of a dislocated left elbow.

He took his frustration out on the Miami Dolphins in Week 1.

"There was a lot of built-up frustration, a lot of built up days of watching, waiting for my turn," Watt said. "I felt like I was in a cage for the last four or five weeks and they finally let me out of my cage."

Watt was the defensive star of the Texans' defense-driven victory on Sunday at Reliant Stadium. The second-year defensive end tipped four – count 'em, four – passes at the line of scrimmage and had 1.5 sacks, all in the first half, as the Texans gave rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill a rude welcome to the NFL.

Two of Watt's tipped passes were intercepted by teammates, setting up touchdowns that broke open a game in which the Texans got off to a sluggish start on offense.

"J.J. was unbelievable," Texans chairman and CEO Bob McNair said. "He just has a great knack for timing the throws and when to jump. He is just a big man and has such a wingspan that he covers a lot of area. He did an outstanding job, and I think he turned the game around."

Watt (6-5, 295) showed a penchant for batting down passes as a rookie last season, highlighted by a sensational interception return for a touchdown in the playoffs against the Cincinnati Bengals.

"I go to the Y every Tuesday and Thursday and play outside setter, and that's where I get my success from on the field," Watt said after Sunday's game, deadpanning reporters before finally letting on that he was joking. "No, it's something we work on. We work on it every day in practice. We do a bat-ball drill. It's something I've been working on since college. I know I have long arms, and you can't get a sack every play, so you might as well try to and bat the ball around."

Watt earned all-rookie honors last season after tallying 56 tackles and 5.5 sacks. Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips frequently compares him to Hall of Famer Howie Long. The Texans think he played as well as any defensive end in the NFL late last season and in the playoffs, when he tied for the NFL lead with 3.5 sacks in just two games.

"I don't think (Sunday's game) surprised you or me," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. "He could've played the last two weeks of the preseason, but that wouldn't have been very smart. He's just an excellent football player, very well-conditioned, and he played a lot of football today. He's turning into a great football player very quickly."

Several of Watt's teammates said in the locker room after the game that he bats down passes every day in practice. They said the same thing in January after his pick-six of Cincinnati's Andy Dalton in the playoffs.

"It's just kind of second nature to him," linebacker Brooks Reed said. "He's got big ol' mitts. It's almost just as good as a sack to me. He had a great game."

Watt did so after not playing a single snap in the preseason, and with a large brace on his left arm that he will wear for the next several weeks. That brace was a storyline heading into Sunday's game, with questions abounding about how it would affect Watt's game.

It didn't.

"I didn't even know it was on," Watt said. "My elbow didn't bother me one bit today. I'm very, very pleased with it."

And the Texans are very, very pleased with Watt.

Twitter.com/NickScurfield

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