Finally healthy, Clowney dominates for Texans defense
HOUSTON (AP) — Jadeveon Clowney pounced on a fumble in the end zone for a touchdown on Sunday against the Colts.
On the next drive, he shoved a lineman out of his path and tossed Andrew Luck to the ground for a 9-yard loss to force a punt.
This is what the Houston Texans envisioned when they selected the defensive end with the first overall pick in the 2014 draft.
After missing all but four games as a rookie because of a knee injury, Clowney has steadily improved each year and had the best season of his career in 2017 when he played all 16 games for the first time.
He's had some good games in the past, but Sunday was perhaps the finest performance of his career, a game where he made play after play to help the Texans to their first win of the season.
Clowney finished with two sacks, four quarterback hits, four tackles for losses and that fumble recovery for a touchdown to earn AFC defensive player of the week honors for the first time in his career.
The recognition meant a lot to Clowney after the struggles he's had since being drafted out of South Carolina.
"I've been through a lot from the day I walked in here, the first game ever I get hurt, battled back, got hurt again, battled back," he said. "My back's against the wall. Just keep battling, competing and showing up. That's the way I live and that's what I'm going to keep bringing every week, hopefully."
Coach Bill O'Brien said there's a simple reason why Clowney has been playing so well this season.
"I think he feels better," O'Brien said. "I think with JD, when he feels good, body-wise, he goes out there and he's hard to handle."
Clowney missed most of training camp recovering from offseason arthroscopic knee surgery and sat out in Week 2 with a back injury. But he's feeling great now and it showed on Sunday.
He said now that he's not dealing with any injuries it makes it easier for him to improve during the week at practice.
"I'm going to practice every day, working on my craft and just working on stuff I wasn't good at, trying to get better at it and enhancing stuff I was already good at," he said.
The 25-year-old is trying to use his hands better and come off the corner quicker and said being healthy makes trying new things much easier.
After his big game, the question is if this is the Clowney the Texans can expect every week, starting on Sunday night when they host the Dallas Cowboys.
"Yeah, I hope so," he said. "That's what I expect out of myself. Just go and put all my effort to this team and my teammates and go out there and compete at a high level."
Clowney has paired with three-time Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt to power a fearsome defensive front.
Injuries to both players over the past few years have made it rare for both Watt and Clowney to play together. Now that they are both back on the field they believe that they'll only get better.
"We know what our team is capable of when everybody is out there and healthy and flying around," Watt said. "We've all had our issues in the past with health. If we can stay healthy and we can all put it together at the same time and play the game we know how to play, we have a chance to be pretty good, but it's a matter of doing it, not talking about it."
Dallas coach Jason Garrett discussed the difficulty of dealing with both Watt and Clowney and how they might try double-teaming them or using tight ends or running backs to try and help slow them down.
"Every time those guys go out there, they seem like they're disrupting what the offense is trying to do," Garrett said. "They're both really good run defenders. They can pressure the passer and make those impact plays throughout a game. It's obviously critical for the guys who are blocking them to be able to handle it and block them well."
But Clowney doesn't care who they try to block him with, he has just one thought.
"Go run through him, get to the quarterback, no matter who I'm going against," he said. "Just try to run through this guy and get to that quarterback as quickly as possible."
He isn't sure if Sunday was his best game as a Texan, but has a plan for trying to replicate that success.
"I'm just trying to get better week by week, play by play and just keep competing at a high level," he said.
For more AP NFL coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL