O-line will have hands full with Watt

TEMPE, Ariz. -- It's a chore no offensive lineman wants, yet every week five poor souls get the unenviable task of trying to stop Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt.

And that's when they're healthy. Imagine coming off the flu and attempting to block 6-foot-5-inches and 289 pounds of speed and power. Welcome to Bradley Sowell's world. The Cardinals' left tackle returned to practice Friday after missing Wednesday and Thursday with the flu. He will start Sunday against the Houston Texans, Arizona coach Bruce Arians announced.

While he was out sick, Sowell was able to follow the game plan and watch film on a team-issued iPad. He didn't miss any of the preparation but the two days away set him back in terms of technique, assignments and film study with coaches, Arians said.

But most of all, Sowell had two fewer days to prepare for Watt.

"It's not ideal to block him when you're fully healthy," Sowell said. "He's a tough guy to block. But there's different things we can do. Hopefully we can run the ball a little bit and hopefully get after him a little bit."

Sowell won't be the only Cardinal charged with blocking Watt.

Right tackle Eric Winston, who played for the Texans in 2011, Watt's rookie season, thinks Watt will line up across from both tackles and over right guard Paul Fanaika. Arians took it one step further and said Watt will most likely line up across from everyone on the line. But just because they know he's coming doesn't mean the Cardinals can stop Watt.

Midway through his third NFL season, Watt's numbers are off from last season's frenetic pace. He has 5.5 sacks and 38 tackles as the Texans are 2-6. Last season, his 20.5 sacks led the NFL to complement his 81 tackles.

His numbers are down because more teams are double and triple teaming Watt. But even then, Winston sees him as a threat.

"I don't see anybody out there blocking him regularly," Winston said. "He's going to be a load in the run game."

Arians, who coached against Watt twice last season while in Indianapolis, said one thing that makes Watt so tough is his ability to play with his hands and eyes. He'll rush the quarterback while keeping his hands on an offensive lineman, and still find the quarterback.

Winston backed up his coach, saying Watt's ability to go around a block and still make a play is uncanny. And frustrating. Most of the time, Winston said, if the offensive lineman can beat the defender to a spot, he can secure the block. Not with Watt. He'll just go around the the blocker.

"You're kinda damned if you do, damned if you don't against him," Winston said. "There's not a clear way to make sure you got him blocked every time. You got to hope you're getting the proper help."

None of what Watt does surprises Winston.

As a rookie, Watt came into training camp with a skill set of player two or three years older. His leverage as a rookie was most noticeable to Winston, who found out how hard it was to knock Watt off balance.

While he's not surprised by Watt, Winston said nobody expected him to be this good this fast.

"He's the best of the best," Winston said. "He's an elite player. I don't think it's an overstatement when [Texans interim coach] Wade [Philips] in the beginning of the season said he's going to be a future Hall of Famer if he keeps it up."

So how do the Cardinals block an elite future Hall of Famer? Just ask him.

"That's a good question," he said with a chuckle. "I'd use two guys."