Clowney has played in and started all 10 of Houston's games, tallying three sacks and 33 tackles, already eclipsing last season's total. The run stopper is also second only to Aaron Donald in tackles for loss (12). His resurgent season had gone well under the radar before last Monday night's performance against the Raiders, whose previously assured running game was shut down almost single-handedly by Clowney.
The third-year end's output has been so impressive that fellow Texans defensive tackle Vince Wilfork went as far to say that Clowney is Houston's best defensive player "even when we have J.J. Watt."
Hyperbole or not, the league is catching on to Clowney's breakout season, including Houston's next opponent.
"I think every play you look at, you have to know where he is," Chargers coach Mike McCoy said, per the Houston Chronicle. "Every time you walk out of the huddle, where is number 90 lined up? He's very productive and destructive in all areas of the game.
"I think he's a very talented player. Everyone has always known that since he's come out. Unfortunately, injuries are part of the business. But you see the way he has played this year, he can change a game in a hurry. He's a special player."
Across the line of scrimmage from Clowney on Sunday is San Diego's young hot shot with an injury history of its own: Melvin Gordon. Like Clowney, Gordon has emerged from early career irrelevance to take the league by storm in 2016; Gordon's 196-yard outing three weeks ago was the best rushing performance this season, west of Jay Ajayi, and he is fourth in the league in rushing yards (838).
How Clowney performs against Gordon, after blowing up Oakland's heralded O-line, will be a true test of his status among the league's top run-stoppers and of whether he has truly -- finally -- made the leap.