How do you block J.J. Watt? It’s a question ESPN posed to several offensive linemen who faced the Houston Texans' MVP candidate. We also asked a linebacker about covering the 6-foot-5, 289-pound Watt, who has five touchdowns, including three touchdown receptions. The answers provide glimpses into the mindset of facing such a freak athlete, and the common denominator is to be prepared for anything.
Week 3: J.J. Watt had seven tackles, including two for losses and a sack, as Houston lost 30-17 to the Giants. New York right tackle Justin Pugh talked to ESPN Giants reporter Dan Graziano about blocking Watt.
He’s someone that’s constantly moving. If you’re on the back side of a play and you’re thinking, "Oh, he may take this play off" where a lot of guys do, like, "He’s not going to try to get this outside stretch run that’s all the way across the field." He’s the type of guy that’s going to try to chase that down, and that’s why you see a lot of times he’s in the right place at the right time, because he’s hustling. His work ethic is what makes him great, and he’s got a chip on his shoulder.
He got a sack against me real early because I was thinking, "This is J.J. Watt. I’ve got to make sure I get out there and get my hands on him," and he came right inside on me. You’ve got to play with your sound technique and match his intensity. That’s what I found with him. And obviously we were able to run the ball on them, so that wore that defense down, and I think that’s what helped us in the end.
I think it’s also not overthinking your assignment. Because when he comes over there, it’s like, "Oh, I’ve got J.J. Watt on me." Everyone makes such a big deal about it. Going into that week, every single question I got was, "How are you going to stop J.J. Watt?" And then the first time he comes over there, you can’t let that sink into your mind. You can’t let the media or what everyone portrays him as affect you. You’ve got to go out there and play with your technique, because if not, he’s going to make you pay for it.
Week 7: Watt had three tackles, including a sack, and two quarterback hits. He also recovered a fumble as the Steelers won 30-23. Steelers right tackle Marcus Gilbert talked to ESPN Steelers reporter Scott Brown about blocking Watt.
You never know what he’s going to do because he’s so unpredictable. He has great strength, great explosion off the ball, and he is quick laterally. He is one of the toughest guys I’ve faced because he studies the game, so you really have to prepare for him. You actually have to be more patient with him and make sure you get your hands inside of him because he’s so explosive and so quick side-to-side. You have to wait on him to make his move before you make your move. It’s tough to get your hands inside of him because he has long arms, and he is very quick with his hands and good with his feet. He’s one of those rare athletes at his position. I haven’t seen any weaknesses in his game. He’s not Superman, but he has very little flaws in his game.
Week 9: Watt had seven tackles, including 1.5 sacks, and five quarterback hits as the Texans lost 31-21 to the Eagles. Philly right tackle Lane Johnson talked to ESPN Eagles reporter Phil Sheridan about blocking Watt.
He’s extremely athletic. That helps him. He makes a lot of plays off of athleticism. As far as gaps, I think he does what he wants sometimes, which is different from most schemes. Not to take away from him -- I mean, he works hard. Athleticism, his quickness off the ball, and he’s a lot more explosive than other guys off the line.
You can watch all the film you want, but it’s different until you’re out there reacting to him. Sometimes when you play him, you can’t go all out and try to be forceful because he’ll go behind blocks. He’s very good at wrong-arming people, of swimming people. It’s different when you go out there and play against him.
He’s all over the field. He plays defensive end, he goes in at 3-technique, 4-technique. He can do it all. He can catch the ball on offense, playing fullback and tight end. He’s a great player.
Week 11: Watt had five tackles, including a sack and two other tackles for losses. He also caught a 2-yard touchdown pass as the Texans beat the Browns 23-7. Browns right tackle Mitchell Schwartz talked to ESPN Browns reporter Jeremy Fowler about blocking Watt.
It’s the fact that he’s pretty unpredictable is what makes him so good. He can do a lot of things. He can jump around a little, and he’s so athletic that he can get back to where he needs to be. Where other guys have to play it more straight, he can gamble a little bit more and make up for it with his athleticism. That unpredictability really kind of gives guys fits ... the way he moves around. You might see the swim move on either side. If you try to overcompensate on something, he can take that and use it against you. ... There are five or six different moves, depending on how he’s lined up, either as a D-end or whether he’s playing 3-technique or lining up all over. He’s a little bit of a different player in each one of those spots. You can kind of guestimate where he’ll be, but after that, it’s a guessing game. ... I got beat inside a couple of times. It’s the total package, not just one thing. It’s everything presented together. He’s gonna move outside, he’ll counter inside, he can run through you, he’s strong, obviously, and powerful. He’s not a one-trick pony where you can focus on one thing. He has a multitude of things.
Week 12: Watt had seven tackles, including one for a loss. He also defended a pass and had a quarterback hit as Cincinnati won 22-13. Bengals right guard Kevin Zeitler talked to ESPN Bengals reporter Coley Harvey about blocking Watt.
It’s just that he can do everything. He’s strong, he’s quick, he’s relentless. He’s an entire package as a pass-rusher. There’s so many guys you can hit, and the play is over and you’re set and it’s fine. But with him, it’s never over. He always has something coming. He knows how to react to any situation.
Week 13: On a first-and-goal at the 1, Ryan Fitzpatrick hit Watt with a touchdown pass to put the Texans up 45-14 after the extra point, and Houston went on to a 45-21 win. Watt was covered by Titans inside linebacker Wesley Woodyard, who described the challenge to ESPN Titans reporter Paul Kuharsky.
Lining up with him, I knew the ball was coming to him. He made a good catch, and the quarterback put it right on the money. You’ve got to know when he’s out there, he’s getting the ball. That was what, his fifth touchdown this year? He’s a dominant guy. He lined up in the backfield, motioned out. I had inside leverage all the way. He ran an out route. He is more capable and has the same ability as a tight end in the NFL when he’s at the goal line. In that situation, he’s definitely one of the best in a goal-line situation. He can just use his body and size, they can throw the ball up to him. He’s an athlete, man. He’s a true all-around athlete. Good hands, good size, good ability to jump, able to make things happen, and that’s why they put him in the goal-line package. I definitely think he could be a capable tight end, but he’s better on that side where he’s at.