INDIANAPOLIS — J.J. Watt entered the 2016 season a two-time defending NFL Defensive Player of the Year recipient, and at 27 years old, there was no reason to believe he was going to slow down anytime soon.
Then came the herniated disk. After three games, his season was over.
Watt had two back surgeries in a span of less than three months, but was able to return for the start of the 2017 season. After a slow start (by his standards), however, Watt suffered a broken shinbone Week 5 against the Kansas City Chiefs.
His season, once again, was over.
Back again for 2018 — and on the cusp of turning 30 — what would Watt be able to bring to the table after playing in a combined eight games over the past two seasons?
Would he be a shell of his former self? Or could he get back to the same dominating force that wrecked opposing offenses for five seasons before getting bit by the injury bug?
As the Indianapolis Colts watch film to prepare for Sunday's game against the Houston Texans at Lucas Oil Stadium, it appears they're learning it's the latter.=
Watt is coming off a performance against the New York Giants in which he collected eight total tackles (three for a loss), three sacks, four quarterback hits and forced a fumble.
Yes, everything seems A-OK for Watt. And the Colts (1-2), like usual, are going to do their best to keep track of No. 99 off the edge all day on Sunday.
"He is obviously special," quarterback Andrew Luck said of his longtime AFC South Division rival. "You play in the league long enough and you play Houston twice a year and I know he has gone through his own journey with injuries and coming back and looking as good as ever. He's a special player. He's someone you have to know where he is."
Watt, who averaged more than 17 sacks a season from 2012 through 2015, has not played the Colts since suffering his two season-ending injuries. And, all things considered, Indianapolis has done a decent job at containing Watt in their two annual matchups since his rookie year in 2011.
In 10 career games against the Colts, Watt has 52 tackles and nine sacks — averages of about five tackles and a sack per game. In Indy, those averages slide down a bit to 4.8 tackles and 0.5 sacks per contest. Watt is also 3-7 in his career against the Colts.
Good. Great. Grand. Wonderful. It all has no bearing on this week's gameplan, of course.
"Yeah, he can wreck a game," Colts offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni said. "We will think about J.J. Watt quite a bit this week."
Watt aside, Sirianni's offense will have much more to think about on Sunday. After being bit hard by the injury bug last season, the Texans (0-3) have seen the return of not only Watt, but also linebacker Whitney Mercilus — perhaps their best overall defensive player who suffered a season-ending pectoral muscle Week 5 last year.
Then there's tackle-for-loss machine Jadeveon Clowney, as well as new free agent addition Tyrann Mathieu, who already has 16 tackles, an interception and a fumble recovery through three games this season.
"Clowney, he is a special player. Mercilus is a special player," Luck said. "There's not just one or two guys, it's a whole group of defenders. Johnathan Joseph has been there a long time, Kareem (Jackson). A bunch of guys that can make plays. We are excited for the challenge. A lot of respect for them as a team and we have our work cut out for us."