Reports out of Arizona on Thursday indicate that Cardinals EDGE J.J. Watt will unfortunately undergo potentially season-ending shoulder surgery, per Adam Schefter. Watt allegedly suffered the injury in the second quarter of Arizona’s Week 7 win over his former team, the Houston Texans. It’s a catastrophic blow for a Cardinals club that has begun the season in perfect fashion. Arizona will now enter their crucial Week 8 Thursday night showdown against the Green Bay Packers as their first contest sans Watt.
The 32-year-old Watt, who signed a two-year, $28 million contract with the Cardinals in the offseason, has started his new journey in impressive form. Watt recorded 16 tackles and a sack through the first seven games and led the team in tackles for loss with five. Despite being in the latter stages of his career, Watt continues to play at an extremely high level while impacting both the pass and the run. Watt's spirited and veteran leadership will also leave a sizable hole behind that's difficult to replace.
The Cardinals' defense has little choice but to usher their way forward. Just how much Watt will be missed by the vastly improved unit will reveal itself in the coming weeks. Arizona's defense currently ranks fourth in yards allowed per contest (316.7) while owning the league's top-ranked scoring defense, allowing opponents to score at the measly clip of 16.3 points per game.
Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph and defensive line coach Brentson Bucker will now turn to a bevy of young playmakers in hopes of replacing Watt by committee. Third-year defensive end Zach Allen, former seventh-round selection Michael Dogbe, sophomore nose tackle Leki Fotu, and the recently activated Jordan Phillips are just some of the candidates that should receive more opportunities to make impact plays going forward. All three players have flashed the skill sets necessary to keep this defense performing at a high level in Watt's absence but must do more in order to take full advantage of the opportunities that are about to present themselves.
Watt's injury also places added pressure on star pass rusher Chandler Jones, who is attempting to play his way into a lucrative new contract. Jones began the season in astounding form by recording five sacks against the Tennessee Titans in Week 1, but has failed to record another quarterback takedown since that day, and has since spent time on the Reserve-COVID List. Opposing offensive lines will have the ability to pay extra special attention to Jones now that Watt won't be creating havoc on the other side. It represents a massive challenge for Jones, but he possesses the skill-set necessary to answer the call.
The Cardinals will be faced with adversity in Watt’s absence. Their young playmakers have enough talent to withstand this massive blow, but only time will reveal the final results.