‘It’s All About Winning’: Cardinals’ J.J. Watt Keeps Chasing QBs, Collecting Ws

J.J. Watt - Arizona Cardinals

Getty Arizona Cardinals defensive end J.J. Watt looks on prior to kickoff against the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday, October 3, at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California.

Arizona Cardinals edge rusher J.J. Watt isn’t worried about the zero next to his name on the stat sheet for sacks this season.

The only numbers that matter, he says, can be found in the NFC West standings.

“We’re 4-0, so it’s beautiful,” Watt told reporters Thursday, October 7. “Obviously you’d like to have the big numbers and the flashy plays, but it’s all about winning. That’s what I’m here to do. I’m here to win.”

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Watt, 32, was a key free-agent acquisition for the Cardinals during the offseason. The three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year signed a two-year deal with Arizona in March, leaving Houston after 10 seasons with the Texans.

So far this season, sacks have eluded Watt, the only player in NFL history with multiple seasons of more than 20 sacks —  20.5 in 2012 and ’14. The 6-foot-5, 288-pound pass rusher had four seasons with 16 or more sacks with the Texans, though he had just five in 2020.

Cardinals defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said one reason Watt hasn’t been able to bring down the quarterback yet in Arizona is the way teams are playing him and edge rusher/linebacker Chandler Jones.

“They’re blocking those guys with two people,” Joseph said. “I don’t blame them.”

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Putting Pressure on Opposing QBs

Despite the lack of sacks, Watt leads the Cardinals with team-highs of 17 QB pressures and 12 QB hurries, and he ranks second with five QB hits, according to PFF. Jones leads Arizona with five sacks — all coming in Week 1 against the Tennessee Titans — and seven QB hits.

Watt also is the Cardinals’ second-highest graded defensive player by PFF at 76.8, trailing only Jones (79.1).

“He’s being disruptive,” Joseph said.

When asked to assess his play this season, Watt said he’s been improving each week but still has work to do.

“I’ll never be pleased with my play no matter how good I play,” he said. “That’s the beauty of this game is that every day you get to go out to practice, every game you get to go out there and play, and you get to test yourself and see where you’re at.”

Watt’s also confident he will add to his total of 101 career sacks, saying “they come in bunches in this league.”

“They’ll come,” he said. “But for right now, if affects the play, if the ball goes way over somebody’s head or if the ball goes in our guys’ hands, it’s fine by me. As long as we’re winning, that’s all that matters.”

Who Will Watt Be Chasing Next?

Watt’s next chance to get his first sack in a Cardinals uniform comes Sunday, October 10, against the San Francisco 49ers. Kickoff is set for 1:25 p.m. MST at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.

Just three days from kickoff, it was still unclear who Watt and the Cardinals will be chasing: veteran Jimmy Garoppolo or rookie Trey Lance. Garoppolo strained his calf in the first half of the 49ers’ 28-21 home loss to the Seattle Seahawks on October 3.

Garoppolo has been sidelined all week, but 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan told Bay Area sports radio station KNBR that the eighth-year QB intends to practice Friday, October 8.

“Jimmy told me he wants to give it a go tomorrow, so we’ll see him out on the practice field tomorrow,” Shanahan told KNBR. “If he looks good, then he’ll have a shot. If he can’t (go), then we’ll shut him down.”

Joseph said the uncertainty about who will start at quarterback for the 49ers (2-2) creates double the preparation work for the Cardinals, as Garoppolo is a traditional pocket passer while Lance is more mobile and a dual threat to pass or run.

“The young guy’s talented,” the defensive coordinator said. “He’s big, he’s fast, he can make every throw, but he hasn’t played much. We’re guessing as to what they should do with this guy.”

No matter who starts for San Francisco, getting to the quarterback won’t be easy. The 49ers have allowed just seven sacks through four games, tied for sixth-fewest in the NFL this season.

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