Texans’ J.J. Watt thriving under former Chiefs coach Romeo Crennel

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – A familiar face awaits the Chiefs on the opposing sideline for Sunday’s game at NRG Stadium.

Romeo Crennel served as a defensive coordinator with the Chiefs (2010-11) before taking over as the head coach in 2012. Widely regarded as a defensive guru, Crennel now enters his second season as a defensive coordinator with the Houston Texans.

Houston Texans' J.J. Watt (99) warms up before an NFL preseason football game against the San Francisco 49ers, Saturday, Aug. 15, 2015, in Houston. (AP Photo/Patric Schneider)
Houston Texans’ J.J. Watt (99) warms up before an NFL preseason football game against the San Francisco 49ers, Saturday, Aug. 15, 2015, in Houston. (AP Photo/Patric Schneider)

And defensive end J.J. Watt, one of the NFL’s premier players, is happy to have Crennel as a coach.

“He’s done a great job in the last year or two,” Texans defensive end J.J. Watt said during Wednesday’s media conference call. “We’re in the second year with the defense now, so everybody is a little bit more well-versed in it. We all understand the concepts and the schemes much better, so now we can do some more things that maybe we weren’t able to do last year.”

The thought of improvement from the Texans defense, especially Watt, could be scary for the Chiefs.

The 6-5, 289-pound Watt has 57 sacks since entering the league in 2011 as a first-round pick (11th overall) with the Texans.

Crennel allows Watt to seek out and exploit a weakness on the opposing offensive line.

Watt turned that trust into an All-Pro season, his third straight such honor, where he totaled 20 ½ sacks, 78 tackles (59 solo) and a safety in 2014.

“Just from an experience standpoint,” Watt said, “myself, personally, some of the freedoms he allows me, it’s a lot of fun to play in this defense.”

Having the ability to freelance along the defensive front isn’t new to Watt, who said it began under then-Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips in 2012, which marked Watt’s second season.

Crennel hasn’t changed a thing since arriving in Houston in 2014.

“Two guys that have a lot of trust in me and guys I had a lot of trust in, Wade and Romeo,” Watt said. “You have to build that trust. You have to earn it.

“I’ve been very fortunate that they’ve entrusted me with that, so I go out there every day and try to make the best decision that I can and play the best that I can within the parameters of the defense.”

Of course, it helps a defense coordinator to have a special player such as Watt.

“You give a lot of credit to Watt,” Texans coach Bill O’Brien said during Wednesday’s media conference call. “He’s just a great talent, he’s got a unique skill set, his athleticism, plus his work ethic, intensity, his toughness, his intelligence really comes into play with our defense because we can move him around.”

O’Brien points out the Texans do a lot on defense with Crennel at the helm, and at the same time they ask a lot of Watt.

That relationship between Crennel and Watt has contributed to success.

“He lets him play and that’s probably the best thing I can say about our defensive scheme,” O’Brien said. “We let J.J. play.”

In the meantime, Sunday’s game could carry some importance to Crennel when considering his ties to the Chiefs.

But Watt downplayed if the contest was anything but another game to his defensive coordinator.

“I think every game is special to him,” Watt said. “We’re just looking to get off on the right foot and go out there and put our best foot forward in the first game.”


Herbie Teope is the lead Chiefs beat writer for ChiefsDigest.com and The Topeka Capital-Journal. Use the contact page to reach him or find him on Twitter: @HerbieTeope.