Josh Weinfuss, ESPN Staff Writer 38d

Former Texans, J.J. Watt and DeAndre Hopkins, right at home in Arizona

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins doesn't question the way things happen.

When former Houston Texans teammate J.J. Watt was traded to the Arizona Cardinals in March, Hopkins said it was "destined."

"I guess we were supposed to be on the same team," he said.

Six games into their first season back together, they've picked up where they left off in Houston, where they won four AFC South titles in seven seasons. Their new team, the Cardinals (6-0), is the NFL's only remaining unbeaten.

On Sunday at State Farm Stadium, Watt and Hopkins will host their former team (4:25 p.m. ET, CBS).

Winning is what Watt wanted in March when he was looking for a new team. It wasn't the only factor, but it was the most important one as he mulled "lots of offers," Cardinals defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said.

"That's all it is. That's No. 1," Watt said. "I've won individual awards in this league. I've been fortunate to have some great seasons and to be on some great teams, and I've been unfortunate to be on some teams that ended up with the No. 1 draft pick.

"I know that winning is better than anything in this league. It's the absolute most joy you can have and I know how bad losing sucks, so I wanted to find a place where I could go and fit in well and win."

And in Arizona, neither Watt nor Hopkins is burdened with having to make plays for their team to win, as they were in Houston.

Hopkins, who joined the Cardinals during the 2020 offseason, is the main offensive target in Arizona -- as he was with the Texans -- but he has a better supporting cast. That has taken some attention and pressure off of him, allowing Hopkins to see more one-on-one coverages from the defense. Hopkins said this is the first time he has had "other receivers that are reliable consistently."

Watt, on the other hand, isn't the featured component of the Cardinals' defense. For the three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year it's a new role after being the player offensive coordinators game-planned around.

He hasn't put up eye-popping numbers through six games -- 15 tackles, including 4 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble and 2 batted passes -- but he has been impacting games in ways that aren't always obvious.

He has nine quarterback hurries. He's third in pass rush win rate among interior linemen this season behind only Aaron Donald of the Los Angeles Rams and Javon Hargrave of the Philadelphia Eagles, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. Watt, 32, is beating his block within 2.5 seconds on 22.7% of his pass rushes. He has had the first pass rush win on 32 plays this season -- tied for 12th in the NFL. Watt's pass rush has led to three sacks and two interceptions. He's 18th among 67 qualified interior lineman in run stop win rate.

"I'd obviously like to have the big numbers and the flashy plays, but it's all about winning," Watt said.

"Whatever it takes, obviously [sacks will] come. I mean, they come in bunches in this league. They'll come. But for right now if it affects the play, if the ball goes way over somebody's head or the ball goes in our guy's hands, that's perfectly fine by me. As long as we're winning, that's all that matters."

Watt is playing more on the interior of the defensive line -- in the 3 and 4 technique -- than he has in the past four seasons. He has really just begun to find his stride after missing almost all of training camp with a hamstring injury in addition to getting familiar with the defensive scheme.

"I think J has played well the last three weeks," Joseph said. "He missed camp, so the first couple games during the season, he wasn't in form. From the Rams game, the San Fran game last week, to [Sunday], he's played at a high level. He's so disruptive. He's making plays. The sack numbers are not there, but as far as the plays he's made on third downs, knocking balls down, making TFLs on first and second down, he's been a dominant player the last three weeks.

"He spent most of his career in Houston. He's got a huge fan base in Houston, so I can imagine he's going to be excited to play those guys on Sunday morning."

It'll be different, Watt admitted on Thursday, but once the ball is kicked, it'll just be like any other game.

The second chapter of Watt's career might not have been in Arizona if it wasn't for Hopkins. The two stayed in touch after Hopkins was traded to the Cardinals in March 2020, and four days after Watt was released by Houston on Feb. 12, Hopkins started recruiting Watt to Arizona with a since-deleted post on Instagram stating: "Let's finish what we started ..."

For now, the two former Texans are happy to be together again.

"J.J., that's my boy, man," Hopkins said. "Me and J.J., actually, we good friends off the field, so to be able to play with J.J., continuously, I didn't expect for him to be on my team again, but it's cool, man."

Said Watt: "It never hurts to have one of the best wide receivers in the game going out there and stumping for [you], and especially a guy who's a friend and I've known for a very long time. It doesn't hurt to have a guy that can catch a ball anywhere on the field and score touchdowns and catch a Hail Mary over three guys, that doesn't hurt either to have on your team."

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