ESPN's Adam Schefter reported Tuesday that Watt reinjured his back and will be placed on injured reserve on Wednesday. If placed on IR this week, Watt is eligible to return to practice after six weeks and to game action after eight weeks, which means he could be back Nov. 27 against the San Diego Chargers.
Watt returned for Week 1 against the Chicago Bears, despite having surgery on a herniated disk in his back in late July. In three games, Watt has 1.5 sacks and a fumble recovery, all of which came in Week 2 against the Kansas City Chiefs. His 1.5 sacks are his fewest through three games since his rookie year, according to ESPN Stats & Info.
Since he came into the NFL in 2011, J.J. Watt has been on the field for 90 percent of the Texans' defensive snaps, according to ESPN Stats & Info.
Although it's impossible to replace the three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, the Texans have playmakers on their front seven. One is former No. 1 pick Jadeveon Clowney. Clowney missed 15 games of his first two NFL seasons because of injury. He has been healthy this season, which has allowed the Texans' coaches to move him around the field, including to defensive end. With the injury to Watt, Clowney might have to adopt a bigger role on defense.
Earlier in the season, Texans head coach Bill O'Brien praised Clowney's versatility and said he thinks Clowney's knowledge of the game makes the change easier.
"He's the type of player that you can move around and ask him to do different things because he understands football," O'Brien said. "He really understands blocking schemes, I believe. He really likes to play all different spots. He's into the game plan every week."
Clowney played at end for the first time with the Texans in Week 1 against the Bears, and then he joked that he understood what Watt goes through each game at defensive end.
"Whatever they want me to do," Clowney said in the season. "I'm down there fighting with 350-pound linemen. It isn't fun, but you have to do your job, go out there, compete and do extra.
"It's a lot easier than being an outside linebacker. You just listen to the call, move to the left or the right a couple of steps and get off the ball, stay in your gap."
Houston's defense, which has been the identity of the team since Watt was drafted in 2011, is now missing two leaders on defense: Watt and inside linebacker Brian Cushing, who injured his knee against the Chiefs and will not return for the next few weeks.
Schefter reported Tuesday that the Texans plan to re-sign DE Antonio Smith, who played for the team from 2009-2013. The Texans' other two options at defensive line are Christian Covington and Devon Still. Still was inactive for Thursday's game against the Patriots.
Before Houston's 27-0 loss to the New England Patriots in Week 3, the Texans' defense led the team to a 2-0 record and led the league with nine sacks. The defense had not given up a touchdown in six consecutive quarters entering the game.
Even without Watt and Cushing, the Texans have a lot of talent on the defense, but obviously, losing a player of Watt's caliber will be a tough hurdle to overcome.