Texans' Lunch Pail Crew eats up blocks for J.J. Watt, Whitney Mercilus

HOUSTON -- If the Houston Texans’ front seven were a corporation, the CEO would be J.J. Watt. Outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus would certainly be a vice president.

But like any company, nothing gets done without the guys doing the blue-collar work, and on the Texans’ defensive line, that’s the Lunch Pail Crew.

The Lunch Pail Crew, or LPC, is made up of D.J. Reader, Brandon Dunn, Angelo Blackson and Carlos Watkins. They have matching T-shirts, “a workman’s attitude” and eat lunch together in the cafeteria when they can. “We come to work,” Reader said.

The group takes pride in doing the dirty work that allows Watt and Mercilus to thrive, taking on double teams, eating up blockers and clogging “up the middle” so nothing can get through and “has to go outside to J.J. or the linebackers,” according to defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel.

“On a team, you have a part and if you can complete your part and be the part that you need to be on the team, you can propel the team in a positive direction.” Blackson said. “That’s all it is, the attitude of, 'I’m going to do my job and make it so J.J. [Watt] and Whit [Whitney Mercilus] and them guys can do their job.'”

Watt is not a member of the Lunch Pail Crew -- “Our roles are slightly different,” he says with a smile -- but Reader has given him the title of manager, and said Watt is “LPC-adjacent.”

“Our roles are slightly different, so I don't necessarily fit into the 'lunch pail' category,” Watt said. “The sack numbers are a little -- we do some different things. There's times they appoint me, at times I have 'lunch pail' plays, but I'm not necessarily in the crew.”

The LPC is led by Reader. The fifth-round pick in the 2016 draft has exceeded expectations for the spot in which he was drafted. He has been the Texans’ starting nose tackle since taking over for Vince Wilfork in his second season.

This has been Reader’s best season yet, and according to Pro Football Focus, and his 91.1 grade through five games is the highest among interior defensive linemen. Reader is playing out the last year of his rookie deal this year. The Texans did not complete a contract extension with Reader before the season, although they did sign center Nick Martin, a second-round pick in the same draft, to a new deal shortly after the season began. It's likely that Reader's value has gone up since training camp with the way he has played to start this season.

“D.J. [Reader] is one of the most underrated players in the league, in my opinion,” Watt said.

“He does a lot of things. I mean, he plays the double team in the run game extremely well. He pushes the pocket in the pass rush, he gets up the middle and can get good pressure up the middle. He plays run blocks extremely well [and] he chases down screens. He works very hard."

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In his first three years in the NFL, Reader had four sacks. Through five games this season, he has 2.5.

But perhaps most importantly, Reader has been consistent for the Texans, and the time he has spent playing with Watt has allowed the three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year to depend on him because “you know he’s going to do his job.”

“It makes it a lot easier when you have that chemistry and you have that time in together, where you can just – it's a look, it's a nod, it's a hand signal,” Watt said. “You know what each other is going to do and sometimes it's not even that, sometimes it's purely feel during a play.

“It makes it a lot easier, because you just know where each guy is going to be and you know what they’re going to do. … It's pretty cool when you can do some special stuff whereas you can't necessarily do that if you've got somebody that you're just plugging in.”