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On bye, Watt has hopes for season’s second half

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The Sports Xchange

HOUSTON — Standing at his locker stall, Houston Texans star defensive end J.J. Watt didn’t sugarcoat how his team has underperformed.

Despite the Texans’ lackluster 3-5 record, the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year’s mood was buoyed by the fact that the AFC South club remains a playoff contender. The Texans have the same record as the Indianapolis Colts. However, the Colts would win the division title and make the playoffs if the season ended today because of a superior 3-0 divisional record and a tiebreaker edge of a head-to-head win over the Texans.

“It’s not necessarily where you want to be record-wise and how things wanted to play out, but you’re sitting here at your bye week, halfway through the year, with everything in front of you,” Watt said. “We have a chance to go out there in the second half of the season, look at it as a new season.”

Watt acknowledged he takes what has happened personally, including the Texans’ struggles at stopping the run. They rank 22nd in rushing defense with 123.5 yards allowed per game with 988 rushing yards and seven touchdowns surrendered overall. However, Watt isn’t dwelling on the Texans’ shortcomings.

“It’s just a matter of not listening to everybody out there who thinks you should be packing it in or thinks it should be over and who has this kind of end-of-the-world mentality,” said Watt, the Texans’ leader with 8.5 sacks. “It’s just a matter of believing in yourselves and we did that all last week. It’s just a matter of going out there, playing together, playing as a team, and knowing that if we did our job and we did what we had to do, we’d be where we are now, which is with everything in front of us.”

Coming off recording 2.5 sacks and nine quarterback hits against Tennessee, Watt said he’ll spend the bye getting treatment for his back.

“Just getting healthy is the biggest thing,” he said. “Going to get healthy, try and take some time to make sure I get this back all set and make sure everything’s all right. Train and see my family.”

–The education of Texans star wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins isn’t entirely complete, but it has reached an advanced stage in his development.

Midway through the season, Hopkins has caught 66 passes for 870 yards and six touchdowns through eight games. He’s on pace to finish the season with 132 catches for 1,740 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Hopkins is a strong candidate to be named to the Pro Bowl for the first time. He has passed former Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson for the most receiving yards in his first three seasons with the franchise, amassing 2,806 yards.

“He’s getting better and better,” Texans receivers coach Stan Hixon said. “He’s making plays for us. Obviously, his ball skills are tremendous and he’s learning the offense. He’s just gaining a lot of confidence along the way.”

–Benched prematurely in the season opener by head coach Bill O’Brien, Texans quarterback Brian Hoyer now has an ironclad grip on the starting job. He doesn’t have to look over his shoulder anymore.

Not with Ryan Mallett no longer on the roster after being fired when he was chronically late and missed a flight to a road game against the Miami Dolphins.

Despite an unproductive running game, Hoyer has provided consistency and built a strong chemistry with Hopkins. Hoyer has passed for a respectable 1,581 yards, 13 touchdowns and three interceptions for a 97.0 passer rating. The former New England Patriots backup is on track to finish with 3,162 yards, 26 touchdowns and six interceptions.

“Obviously, it’s good, but at this point in my career with what I’ve gone through, it’s really one day at a time and one game at a time,” Hoyer said. “I’m going to continue to take that mentality. I think one of the things that my experiences have taught me is how fortunate I am to be in this position. I go out every day and try to make the best of it.”

–Kevin Johnson immediately made an impression on Texans secondary coach John Butler during an NFL scouting combine meeting in February. Butler noted Johnson’s maturity and focus. Months later, the Texans drafted the Wake Forest cornerback in the first round with the 16th overall pick.

Johnson has started four of eight games and has 28 tackles and one interception.

“Kevin is a very good young player that takes a very serious approach to being a professional football player and what it takes both on and off the field,” Butler said. “If he continues to take that approach, he’ll have a very successful career.”

–Texans strong safety Eddie Pleasant leads the team with seven penalties with one declined. That includes two unnecessary roughness calls and two defensive holding infractions nullifying two interceptions by Rahim Moore.

Outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney ranks second on the team with five penalties. Ranking third with four penalties apiece: defensive end J.J. Watt, cornerbacks Kevin Johnson and Kareem Jackson and wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins.

Watt has three roughing the passer penalties. Hopkins has been flagged twice for offensive pass interference.

–Texans tight end Ryan Griffin is scheduled to return to practice next week with no restrictions. Griffin remains on injured reserve, designated for return with a sprained medial collateral ligament in his knee.

Once he returns to practice, the Texans have 21 days to activate him or keep him on injured reserve for the remainder of the season.

“It’s been like the worst eight weeks, just sitting back not even on the sideline with my team,” said Griffin, who will be playing with a knee brace. “It’s been hard to watch. The plan, as of right now and it’s subject to change, but Monday I’ll be out there full-go.”

Griffin didn’t need to have surgery and the injury, which was sustained in a loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, has healed up.

A third-year player from Connecticut, the 6-6, 254-pound former sixth-round draft pick caught one pass for 18 yards against the Chiefs and has 30 career receptions for 353 yards.


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