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Playing Against Texans For First Time 'Different' For J.J. Watt

Veteran defensive lineman says team is not the same one he played with in 2020

Cardinals defensive lineman J.J. Watt before Sunday's win in Cleveland.
Cardinals defensive lineman J.J. Watt before Sunday's win in Cleveland.

Playing the team for which he starred for a decade, with whom he won three Defensive Player of the Year awards, where he became a beloved member of the community, moves Sunday's game against the Texans out of the realm of normal for J.J. Watt.

But, said the Cardinals defensive lineman Thursday, "I don't think it's what people may think it is."

"You look at the roster and look at the guys there, it's been so massively turned over, there are only a handful of guys from last year that I played with.," Watt said. "It's not like, 'Oh, I want to go and beat my old team, or, 'Man, I can't wait to face this guy.' Because it's not the same team, it's not the same organization."

The changes the Texans were going through are a reason Watt ended up in Arizona. Houston owner Cal McNair was willing to let Watt be released, and pick his own destination, rather than attempt to trade Watt and get some kind of return.

(The trade of former Texan DeAndre Hopkins, and his particular contract situation and deteriorating relationship with then-coach Bill O'Brien, was a different situation.)

So Watt was able to figure out that the Cardinals were with whom he wanted to play.

"I signed here because I saw great potential in the team as it was," said Watt, who announced his destination on social media on March 1. "And then you continue to add guys like A.J. Green, like Rodney Hudson, now the owner is making moves for Zach Ertz, this organization, the GM, the owner, have shown they are willing to do the things necessary to go out and compete for a championship. That's why I'm here. I'm loving being here."

The Texans have struggled with a new coach, new general manager and because of the legal troubles and other issues with quarterback Deshaun Watson. It is rookie Davis Mills who Watt will be trying to sack Sunday, against an offense that bears little resemblance just from the one Watt played with last season.

"I don't want 'J' and 'Hop' so emotional where they're not doing their job," acting co-head coach Vance Joseph said. "It's about the Cardinals this week. It's the next game for those guys, I hope. They're human, and they were both drafted there, so there should be some emotion. But hopefully, it's about the team first. It's about the Cardinals."

Watt has no problem with that concept. "I care about one year and one week only, and that's it," he said. "I truly feel that's how this team feels right now, and why we are where we are."

On the sideline at the end of the Browns' win, NFL Films picked up Watt stalking the sideline saying that "maybe we’re just better." Asked about it Wednesday, Watt smiled.

"I was just talking to my boys," he said.

The Cardinals are 6-0. Watt, although he has only one sack, has been good this season with his last couple of games being his best. On the season he is credited for 15 tackles, four for loss, and a couple of passes defenses.

He has also been one of the highest-rated interior linemen in pass-rush pressure as he plays inside more than he had in recent years. The Texans will see the current version up close and personal.

"You try not to have it affect you but it affects you," guard Justin Pugh said. "I've played my former team twice and you feel you want to prove to them they were wrong. You want to prove to them they made the mistakes, that whoever decided to ship you out of there, they were the ones who made the mistake."

Again, that Watt wasn't necessarily shipped out mitigates his feelings. He said with a smile that it was "not like I chucked out all my Houston" gear. Some day, the team will no doubt hope he retires as a Texan.

But seeing the Texans uniforms on the field without him being one of the players in one will have its impact, Watt acknowledged. He already got a taste of it this week, flipping on the Texans video to study for the game and instead of watching the team playing Houston, it's now about breaking down the plays of the Texans themselves.

"It's definitely different," Watt said, "but I don't think I'm going to forget which guy I'm supposed to tackle."