The Ravens travel to Houston on Sunday with the Texans having big questions at quarterback. But the Ravens would be foolish to believe this game will be a walk in the park. On the defensive side of the ball, the Texans have potential MVP candidate J.J. Watt, who is playing well above the $100 million contract extension he received at the start of the season.
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Watt has become the best defensive player in the NFL and is a dominant pass rusher. Houston runs a base 3-4 defense, but they have multiple nickel and sub-packages that move Watt around to find his best match up for each game.
His athleticism reminds you of the defensive equivalent to an athletic tight end. When you talk about the likes of Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham, you say they’re too big and strong for corners to cover, but too quick for linebackers and safeties to keep up with. Watt is the same on defense. He’s too strong for offensive tackles to block on the edge, and too quick for guards and centers to block inside.
Here, Watt lines up as a 4-3 defensive end against the Giants right tackle.
From the snap, Watt wins leverage. Despite being 6’5” and 289 pounds, Watt manages to keep his pad level lower than the tackle. He quickly gets his hands inside onto the body of the tackle. With quick hand placement and low pad level, Watt gains all the leverage in the block before the tackle even has a chance to get himself set.
Watt uses that leverage to his full advantage. He shoves the tackle to the outside.
The tackle can’t deal with Watt’s strength and is forced to try and almost tackle Watt to save the sack.
But Watt makes a great diving effort to get to quarterback Eli Manning and make the sack.
As I mentioned above, the Texans will move Watt all around the defensive line to find his best match up. He’s comfortable playing in just about every technique.
But if the Texans don’t line him up outside the tackle, he’ll most often be found as a 3-technique defensive tackle, as he was here against the Titans.
Watt uses his quickness on the inside against guards. On this rush, he fakes a rush into the A gap before working back to the B gap outside right guard Chance Warmack.
Watt uses a quick club and swim move, his most effective move, to fight through the block attempt from Warmack.
He quickly works past Warmack and closes in on the quarterback.
Watt wraps up the quarterback for another sack.
But Watt has more strings to his bow than just being a terrific pass rusher. He can be a stout run defender too. He often blows up blocks and finds himself in the backfield, making tackles for loss.
The Eagles are one of the best running teams in the NFL and have been since Chip Kelly was appointed head coach. Kelly was wise to run the ball away from Watt on a zone play intended to go towards the right tackle.
But Watt uses his quickness off the snap to get play-side of his blocker and then uses his strength to stand him up.
Watt quickly works pass the guard in to the backfield. Running back LeSean McCoy spots Watt breaking through the line and knows he has to cut back his run quickly.
But before McCoy can start his trademark juking moves, Watt closes the gap and dives to make the play. He even manages to get his hand on the football, nearly knocking it loose. McCoy is forced to accept a loss on the play.
Watt is in terrific form at the moment, with seven sacks in his last three games. But he has the complete game to back up his pass rushing skills. He’s a force to be reckoned with in the run game, as we’ve seen above, and is always alert to quick passes and screens, getting his hands in passing lanes to deflect passes. He has an impact on almost every snap. The Ravens will have to prioritise Watt, identifying exactly where he lines up on every play and have a game plan to deal with him.