Phillips: Watt still top DL in league

HOUSTON -- At this time last year, Texans defensive end J.J. Watt was well established as the hottest defensive player in the league.

Even against the New England Patriots last season, Watt didn't have a sack, but he did hit Tom Brady three times.

His 9.5 sacks aren't leading the NFL this season. That title belongs to Colts outside linebacker Robert Mathis, who has 15.5, but Watt has still been very disruptive -- enough that his defensive coordinator doesn't think he's lost his perch as the best defensive lineman in the NFL.

"J.J.'s probably the top defensive lineman in the league, I think everybody can see that from the way he plays," Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said. "I don't know about all the numbers. He's really hit the quarterback a lot of times. Hasn't had as many sacks, but he's got a lot of hits on the quarterback. He's still getting a lot of tackles for loss. He knocked down a ball again last game. He's consistently a great player every game."

Some help with the numbers for Phillips: Watt leads the league in quarterback hits with 38. He has 13 more than the next player, Rams defensive end Robert Quinn, who has 25. He also leads the league in tackles for loss with 17 and solo tackles by a defensive lineman with 51. Since 2011, when Watt was drafted, no defensive lineman has had more solo tackles (169), sacks (35.5) or forced fumbles (7) than Watt.

"Last week, the Patriots, every time they brought the center to his side, no matter where he was. We moved him around a lot, and we've been doing that. ... They did a good job of turning towards him on every play. We have to contend with that."