The last time Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin had to face J.J. Watt, the two-time All-Pro was a little over a month into his rookie season on October 2, 2011. It was quiet game for Watt, who didn't have a sack, a pass defensed, or a touchdown celebration in the Texans 17-10 win over Pittsburgh at home.
Things have changed. When Tomlin watches film on Watt now, he sees quite possibly the best player in the NFL today.
"I see a really talented guy that's on top of his game in every way," Tomlin said Wednesday. "He's on top of his physical talents. He's got enough experience now where his experience is really showing through. When a really talented player is at that stage of his career, you have an opportunity for fireworks, Player-of-the-Year-type fireworks, and obviously that is the type of tape he's putting out right now."
The high praise meant a lot to Watt, getting ready to head up to Heinz Field for the first time in his NFL career.
"People who have been in the league a long time and people that have had success in this league are peoples' opinions that I respect, so I'm very appreciative of that," Watt said.
Through six games, Watt has scored three touchdowns, becoming just the fourth player in ever to return an interception and a fumble for a touchdown as well as catch a touchdown pass all in the same season. Watt currently leads the NFL with 20 quarterback hits, six passes defensed, 26 tackles with seven tackles for loss, one blocked kick, four sacks, and a career-tying season high of two fumble recoveries. While rumblings of Watt being named Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year have already begun, he says he's grateful but doesn't pay too much attention.
"I'm going to work as hard as I can in the film room, in the weight room, on the practice field and then go out on game day and try and be the best player I can be," Watt said. "Awards, honors, and things like that, those are people's opinions. If they think highly enough of me to give me those things, then I'll accept them gladly but I'm not going to beat myself over it if I don't get it because I know I did everything that I could do. I can't control what a voter thinks. I can't control what a media member thinks and how they write. All I can do is control how hard I work and how much I can contribute to the game. Then everyone can decide if I'm good enough to get those awards."
The (3-3) Texans and (3-3) Steelers will play Monday Night at Heinz Field. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m CT on ESPN and SportsRadio 610.