Legendary defensive coordinator Wade Phillips coached J.J. Watt for his first three years with the Houston Texans, then four years after that job ended had the opportunity to coach Aaron Donald for three seasons on the L.A. Rams. Under Phillips’ guidance and scheme, Watt won 2012 Defensive Player of the Year, then took home award two more times after he left. Then Donald won his first two Defensive Player of the Year awards during the first two years of Phillips’ tenure under Sean McVay.
Combined, the two future Hall of Famers have won six Defensive Player of the Year awards and 12 first-team All-Pro nods. Yes, Watt and Donald might share some similar traits, in addition to enjoying some of their greatest career moments under the same defensive coordinator.
Watt was recently on the podcast of a former Rams defensive lineman, Chris Long, and talked about how important Phillips was to his success and compared his role to that of Donald’s in the same system.
“Well I can tell you the play the place you want to play is in a Wade Phillips defense, because Wade Phillips is the best. I mean you just look at the players that he’s coached over his career and what he’s been able to do and I mean you look at Aaron Donald obviously played in his defense for a few years there as well. And he did a very, very similar thing, we both played that four technique in base and then we would either play a three or five. It would go basically anywhere on third down and I think that’s what Wade is really, really good at. He plays a lot of man coverage, he has a lot of guys tightened up behind you so that you get that extra quarter second, that extra half second, but he also lets you roam free up front and he’ll send five a lot of times so that you do catch more one-on-ones than you normally would.
He lets you play and after you prove to him that you’re capable of doing it, then he gives you the freedom and he’ll put you over the right guys, he’ll get you in the right situations to try and create those one-on-one matchups and I don’t think that myself, AD, or anybody who’s ever played for Wade would say we did it by ourselves. We did it because we had a great coach that also put us in great position.”
Phillips told reporters back in 2012, after just one season with Watt, that he would be a Hall of Famer one day and he said that his 2014 season was one of the best by any player at any time. Phillips was also one of the main reasons that the Texans drafted Watt in 2011, telling head coach Gary Kubiak that it would be a huge mistake if they selected an offensive player over Watt. Then Phillips gave some of that same praise to Donald, saying after the 2019 season that AD was a “surefire Hall of Famer” despite the fact that McVay was about to part ways with him and go in a new direction. Donald said at the time that Phillips put him and his teammates “in great positions” for his three seasons.
Phillips helped Kubiak win the Super Bowl as the defensive coordinator of the Denver Broncos in 2015 as Von Miller won Super Bowl MVP.
Watt says he has no plans to return to the NFL after announcing his retirement earlier in the offseason. He posted 12.5 sacks for the Arizona Cardinals last season at the age of 33. Donald is entering his age-32 season after posting five sacks and missing six games in 2022, but he appears healthy and ready for 2023. He last won Defensive Player of the Year in 2020 under Brandon Staley.
Do you think Donald played his best football for Wade Phillips?