Houston defensive lineman J.J. Watt has wrecked his share of game plans since entering the league in 2011, and the Rams prepared all week with an eye toward trying to keep that destruction to a minimum.
“Our plan was, No. 1, going in to recognize his ability, his strengths and the fact that he’s an outstanding player,” Rams coach Jeff Fisher said. “And then try to design an offensive plan that we can get away from him and not run towards him or get him doubled, and the guys executed very well.”
Indeed, the Rams executed better than very well when it came to handling the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year. By the time the dust settled Sunday in the Rams' 38-13 win, Watt had a stat line that would make Grantland’s Mark Titus proud: nearly straight zeros across the board.
Fisher said Monday that Watt had a lone quarterback hurry. It was the first time since his rookie season that Watt failed to record a tackle.
Watt, who was clearly unhappy about the loss, was also upset with his own lack of production.
“Right now, I would describe my emotions as frustrated,” Watt said. “Frustrated. As a player I have to be optimistic and as a leader of this team I have to be positive, and that’s what I’m going to do.”
As usual, the Texans lined up Watt all over the line in hopes of creating mismatches for him or at least enough confusion on the Rams' side to allow others to have some success.
The Rams spent their week focusing on locating Watt presnap, remaining assignment sound and using combination blocks and double teams to help slow Watt down.
Without looking at the film, right tackle Joe Barksdale believed the Rams were able to execute that game plan quite well.
“He’s a good football player and somebody we definitely targeted as an offense, and he lined up in a whole bunch of different places and I think everybody did a good job,” Barksdale said. “We were focused on being technique sound and not lunging at guys.”
For what it’s worth, Watt entered Sunday’s game as Pro Football Focus' highest-rated defensive player in the league. According to PFF's grading system, Watt hadn’t registered a score below 4.7 for the season and had an overall score of 35.1, nearly twice the output of any other defender in their ranking, save for the Rams’ Robert Quinn.
On Sunday, Watt’s grade came in at minus-0.8, only the fifth negative grade he’s earned in his short career.
Regardless, the only numbers the Rams cared about were the goose eggs almost across the board on Watt’s stat line. After struggling with defensive linemen such as DeMarcus Ware and Glenn Dorsey earlier this season, a strong performance against a player of Watt’s stature should bolster the line moving forward.
“He is an outstanding player,” center Scott Wells said. “I have a great amount of respect for him. As a team, we have to go out there and block him by using great fundamentals and technique and execute the game plan. If we are able to do things like that, even with a player like Watt, we should have some success.”