The rebirth of J.J. Watt; Cam Akers’ comeback: NFC West Stock Watch

Yes, at 33, Arizona Cardinals defensive lineman JJ Watt can still play.

The Wisconsin product has provided weekly evidence of that throughout the season, but most notably in Week 15. Watt showed his passing skills in his team’s loss to the Denver Broncos last week.

Watt’s total damage? Three sacks, three quarterback hits, five tackles, including three tackles for loss, a forced fumble and a pass deflection while playing 58 of a possible 69 defensive snaps.

All three sacks came in the first half for Watt.

“I’m just trying to go out there and play good football,” Watt said. “I’m trying to help us win. I’m trying to do what I can. It was good. But then [the Broncos] they went into the half and obviously didn’t want that to happen again. They changed everything. And give them credit, they did a good job in the second half.”

It was Watt’s 28th multi-sack game, five more than any other player since entering the league in 2011. He also had his seventh career three-sack game, tied for the league-high since 2012.

Watt is on pace for his sixth season with at least 10 sacks. He leads all active players with 189 tackles for loss and is fourth with 111.5 sacks. Watt, Aaron Donald and Lawrence Taylor are the only players to win NFL Defensive Player of the Year three times.

Watt reportedly earned $900,000 in incentives for eclipsing the seven, eight and nine sack marks. Leads the Cardinals with 9.5 sacks.

The key for Watt this season is that he has managed to stay healthy. Watt missed 10 games last season with a dislocated shoulder that required surgery. He missed the start of this year’s season with a calf strain and also dealt with atrial fibrillation. Watt managed to get back on the field and has been mostly productive in his 12th NFL season.

With the Cardinals at 4-10 and mathematically eliminated from the postseason, Watt understands he will play in 2023.

“You have to be a professional and do what you have to do, because the reality is you’re playing for a job next year,” he said. “You’re playing for the future. It’s a crappy place to be with three games left, but it is what it is.”

Watt will be an unrestricted free agent and will have a decision to make this offseason. He could re-sign with the rebuilding Cardinals or chase a Super Bowl ring with a team built for a deep postseason run. He could also retire, but that doesn’t seem to be in the cards.

Watt’s resurgence headlines this week’s NFC West Stock Watch.

getting up

JJ Watt’s Cardinals: After one of his three sacks against the Broncos, Watt paid tribute to his younger brother, Steelers running back TJ Watt, by mimicking his sack dance.

San Francisco 49ers RB Jordan Mason: The undrafted rookie out of Georgia Tech has earned a role as San Francisco’s tight end with Elijah Mitchell out with a knee injury.

Mason had 64 rushing yards, including a game-tying 55-yard jaunt, in a win over the Seattle Seahawks, clinching the NFC West title for San Francisco.

“I call him Mariano Rivera, he’s the closest,” joked 49ers RB Christian McCaffrey. “That guy runs so hard. For him to come in and finish the game like that was great.”

Branches of Los Angeles RB Cam Akers: In Sean McVay’s dugout earlier this year and asked to stay away from team facilities, Akers is starting to show glimpses of the relentless running style that established the his rookie season.

Akers finished with 65 rushing yards and 35 receiving yards in a loss to the Green Bay Packers on Monday. According to Next Gen Stats, Akers has 210 yards after contact since Week 11, 17th in the NFL.


Seahawks safety When Diggs: The veteran safety missed a very catchable interception with two minutes left in halftime and his team trailing 7-3 midfield against the 49ers that could have been returned for a big gain or even a score.

Seattle ended up getting the ball back on one punt, but running back Travis Homer looked for a big hit from Niners linebacker Dre Greenlaw and cornerback Charvarius Ward returned the ball 40 yards to Seattle’s 6-yard line. McCaffrey scored two plays later.

“I feel like it was a big time, I didn’t catch the ball,” Diggs said afterward. “I’ll get better. That’s all I can do. It’s up to me. I let it down.”

Seahawks cornerback Tariq Wool: The rookie defensive end has shown playmaking ability all season, but has also made his share of rookie mistakes.

Against San Francisco last week, Woolen appears to be the Seahawk who nullified his coverage on George Kittle’s 54-yard touchdown. The Seahawks appeared to be on Cover 3, and in the video, Woolen appears to run a slant route inside instead of covering his third of the field along the sideline, where Kittle breaks loose for the big gain.

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Eric D. Williams has reported on the NFL for more than a decade, covering the Los Angeles Rams for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Chargers for ESPN and the Seattle Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune. Follow him on Twitter at @eric_d_williams.

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