Houston Texans' defensive lineman JJ Watt just might be the most disruptive player in the NFL. When the St. Louis Rams line up across from him Sunday in Houston, Sam Bradford and the Rams offensive line must always be aware of where Watt is.
That's not an easy task. The Texans slide Watt all over their defensive front. A defensive tackle in college at Wisconsin, Watt's athleticism allows him to play all along the defensive line in Wade Phillips' 3-4 scheme. So it won't just be on Jake Long to account for Watt. He'll rush from either edge or straight up the gut.
Watt already has 3.5 sacks this season, but he is often more dangerous when he doesn't get to the quarterback. Watt's wingspan makes him the most prolific pass swatter in the league. He combines his long arms with a tremendous instinct that allowed him to get his hands on 16 passes last season. He's batted down three already this year.
The danger there is not just an incompletion. Watt's deflections often end up in the hands of one of his teammates. As the Rams saw against both Arizona and Atlanta, when interceptions come via the front seven, they often end up in the end zone.
Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer is more than aware of Watt's ability to change a game:
“So athletic, extremely high motor. He plays all kinds of different gaps. He doesn’t always play where he’s supposed to play, but he’s so athletic he just makes plays from trying hard. If he’s not the best defensive lineman in the league, he’s certainly in the top two or three…He’s got that wingspan. The emphasis goes more to the linemen. If you’ve got him stopped and he’s kind of standing there trying to feel his way through you, you’ve got to try to just get your hands on him to keep his hands down.”
The Rams linemen not only have to keep Watt's hands down; Schottenheimer and Bradford would be wise to scheme the passing game away from Watt.
Watt's deflections generally come when he sniffs out screens and slants, two staples of the Rams' passing attack. Schottenheimer will need to minimize those calls, and when he does, Bradford needs to recognize where Watt is lined up. If Watt is lined up on the side of the play, Bradford would be wise to check out of it or audible to the other side.
Frankly, this hasn't been an area Bradford has excelled at thus far. If Bradford allows JJ Watt to get involved in his passing game on Sunday, he could be trying to chase down Texans defenders heading for his goal line.
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