With the Patriots barely escaping week two with a win against division rival Miami Dolphins, the Patriots may have an even tougher match-up this week against the Texans. The team met in 2015, where we saw New England come away with the victory, 27 to six. In that game, J.J. Watt did not have any sacks on Tom Brady, coming away with three tackles and one tackle for a loss. The Texans had three sacks in that game and also met a make-shift offensive line, much like what New England will be coming into week three with as well. Let's delve a little further into this big match-up on Thursday Night Football.
Watt is listed as the Texans starting right defensive end, which would have him lining up with the left side of the Patriots offensive line. Coming off another terrific season in 2015, Watt finished with 17.5 sacks and already has one sack in a half through the first two games. Despite having off-season back surgery, Watt was not only ready for the beginning of the regular season, but has shown very little signs of rust thus far either.
With the Patriots getting Nate Solder back at left tackle in week two, it is a silver lining in this particularly tough match-up against the Texans front seven which also includes Jadeveon Clowney and Benadrick McKinney. But the key player to watch will be the three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
While Watt is listed as a defensive end, his versatility allows him to line up inside when needed to rush the passer, giving the opposing interior offensive line fits as well. One of his best traits along with rushing the passer is his ability to sealing the edge on run plays and keeping the play in between the tackles. So while he is very dangerous as a pass rusher, he also can hold himself well at the very least against the run as well.
With how much the Patriots have relied on LeGarrette Blount so far in the run game in absence of Brady and Rob Gronkowski, Watt could prove to be a headache in that aspect as well. With his ability to rush the pass, there is another aspect of his skill-set that proves to be just as difficult.
That would of course be his ability to deflect passes at the line of scrimmage. In his first five seasons, he has deflected 45 passes for an average of nine per season. That is quite a lot for any non-secondary player. With his disruption at the line of scrimmage, it blocks off a passing lane for the opposing quarterback to use with his leaping ability. With that, it takes away part of the field for the opposing offense to use on passing downs. So whether or not Watt is trying to seal the edge, rush the passer, or swat down passes at the line of scrimmage, he is threat on every defensive down.
The Patriots were successful in limiting his impact in last year's match-up, so clearly something worked. The key to stopping Watt will be restricting him from being mobile while the play is live. In most cases, Watt is not easily contained in a one-on-one match-up, which would mean he will need more attention on him. That can be done by adding an extra blocker to where he is, usually with a tight end to help restrict Watt's influence on a play. With that, it would give the Patriots a better shot of keeping him at bay and worrying about the other Texans players. Not that the other Texans players are not ones to worry about, but it would make whoever it may be at quarterback more comfortable in the pocket.
Another strategy the Patriots can use is utilizing Blount's ability to run in between the tackles to attack the interior defensive line and keep the play away from Watt. With 51 rushing attempts through the first two games already, it's clear that New England is comfortable running the ball to control the tempo and game clock as well. If the Patriots can use designed run plays that can avoid going anywhere near Watt, it would obviously make it easier to keep him at bay and have little to no effect on the field.
All in all, while the Patriots may have another issue on their hands with the quarterback situation if Jimmy Garoppolo is unable to play and Jacoby Brissett is forced to start, Watt brings another scary element to this upcoming match-up. With the Texans able to hold the Chiefs and Bears to a combined 26 points in their first two games of the season, Houston will be a tough opponent for New England regardless.
But by assigning more protection against Watt and using designed play calls to keep him from being involved, it would give the Patriots a better chance of finding a weakness in this defense. And arguably no-one is better at strategizing specific game-plans on a week-to-week basis than Bill Belichick. The Patriots have held Watt in check before and will work towards keeping it that way in their latest match-up on Thursday.