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The Film Room: J.J. Watt

You already know J.J. Watt is incredible, but read Matt Weston's breakdown to understand the nuances of his play and why he's the best defensive player in the game.

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Scott Halleran

Nearly every article written about J.J. Watt starts the same way.

There's nothing left to be said about J.J. Watt.

Words can't even describe how incredible Watt is.

There are millions of words and infinite sentence combinations.  This is the best we can do to describe the best defensive player in the league? Let me channel my inner Cormac McCarthy and give it a try:

The man paces. Back and forth. Back and forth. He saunters about like a blood frothing bedlamite that recently learned the tongue is merely an annoyance, an obstacle to the teeth. Back and forth. The hall he resides in is vacant. Yet outside of it awaits the buzz and murmur of a 71,000 person bedlam. Wild and impetuous, they scream to fulfill their violent cravings that evolution has still yet to remove from the human psyche. But in the entrails of the structure it's just him and Lite beer posters that hang as if they are dour smelling stalactites left behind by smoky clouds of demonic hummingbirds. Back and fourth.

Inside, he's besotted with rage. Outside, he's stoic, placid, and collected with a hint of insanity bellowing underneath. Inside, there's a cataclysm ripping through innards, bone, and sinew. Outside, the Earth still spins on a 23.4 degree axial tilt. His pure blue eyes rest upon a blood spattered patch of macabre marker like the seven sisters in a pitch black night devoid of the moon.  Each step is emphasized by clicks and clacks thanks to the gore colored boots that preserve his feet. His uniform: deep blue pants and helmet with a bovine chevron turned slightly to the left, bone-white jersey are nestled and glued to his body so that it looks as if his arms and legs that were forged from the iron of Damascus are sprouting from his attire. He's from the provenance where Gold, Bdellium, and Lapis Lazuli lay plentiful in the hills surrounded by four serpentine bodies of water. He's the perfect specimen of man. When the lord formed man out of the clay from the ground and exhaled the breathe of life into his nostrils, this is exactly what he had in mind.

Outside, the slow and steady buzz of demons transforms into a sea of wails. The ground begins to vibrate. The man snatches the outstretched straps that limply hang from his hardhat. He snaps them to the buckles. The last element to his shroud is complete. The pacing stops. He walks through the tunnel to join the rest of his clan, who leap to the rhythm of their taunts and chants like an archaic caravel of fire breathing jugglers. The jumping stops. They turn into a billow of migration and throttle from the opaque darkness into a 57,600 square foot field besmirched with ordered markings of white that stretch horizontally and vertically like longitude and latitude stretch marks. The bloodthirsty phalanx turns into a rolling boil. Their screams evaporate from their lungs. The man inhales it all in without a word muttered. He heads to the sideline.

The patriotic tableau ends. The ball is kicked. The game begins. He waits. He waits. The person in black and white sets the ball where it belongs according to the laws of this universe. The man descends onto the field where he makes his mark a few feet from where the oblong resides.  He rests on his knees and awaits the men wearing opposite colors who saunter over bandylegged. As they approach, he rises. He stands basking in the center of the primal screams like a half-eaten deer in the middle of an orgy of feeding wolves. He spreads his arms to his side with his palms facing upwards to collect the surrounding energy. The arms raise above his head in the movement of a fetid vulture's wings. Each successive flap increases the decibels in the atmosphere. Louder and louder and louder and louder, the noise raises inside the cathedral.

Years of evolution and the modernization of man has still failed to quench its thirst of violence. But rather then cut their neighbor into a million little pieces or slaughter and scalp whole villages of aborigines, they play and watch these bone-crunching games. The man is merely a thespian who connects the millions who live in an era of comfort and safety to their primal past. He is the cool running water to quench the drought of violence that resides in the mouth of every man. They may say to treat others nicely, that violence doesn't solve anything, but deep in the viscera resides the need to see bones broken like eggshells, lungs punctured like balloons resembling puppies, and the skull cracked until it pops, fizzling like a pinata of gore.

The men on the other side of the equator drop their rear like a malnourished, plague-ridden man who survives off wild berries does. They dig their hands into the turf. He counters. He gets down a knee and stretches his arm covered with a black arm brace as far as he can in front of him. The arm pushes up and lifts the rest of his body. The other arm dangles pendulously. He's a piranha glistening in the primordial waters of the unknown. He turns and stares at the brown oblong potato that looks like a forgotten vegetable living in the corners of a decrepit restaurant. The man waits.


3rd Quarter, 11:19 Remaining vs. NYG, Result: Rashad Jennings Left Tackle for -6 Yards,

If you want to know what disaster looks like for an offense attacking the Texans' defense, this is it. The Giants are running a weird lead play where the fullback blocks the back-side inside linebacker rather than the one on the play-side. The play-side guard has an "Ace" with the center to the play-side inside linebacker. This leaves left tackle Will Beatty (#65) all alone to have to block J.J. Watt at the point of attack. This never works out well.

Watt 4-1

Beatty takes a slide step left to cover up Watt, who's playing in the gap as a "5". Beatty is aiming for his sternum. Watt comes out of his stance and instantly recognizes the step Beatty has taken.

Watt 4-2

Watt has one job on this play. Get in the backfield and pillage the offense. So rather than just attack the gap head on, he plants his right foot and goes against the grain to the inside gap. You can see that Beatty's head is on Watt's outside shoulder. He was aiming for the sternum and ends up on the outside edge. Watt then raises his arm to swim right around Beatty.

Watt 4-3

Watt 4-4

Beatty completely whiffs on his block. He stumbles forward like a newborn deer wearing ice skates. Before Jennings even receives the hand-off, Watt is already in the backfield.

Watt 4-5

Watt 4-6

When Watt comes out of his swim, he makes sure to get low and regain his balance. This allows him to have the leverage necessary to bring down the bruising ball carrier that Jennings is.

Watt 4-7

Jennings is stopped for a loss of six yards.  Rather than continue their drive, the Giants are forced to kick a field goal.

Watt 4-8

In the GIFs throughout the article, pay special attention to the speed of Watt's play

Watt Gif #1

When Watt first took the league by storm like a spark in a parched forest, everyone was amazed that a 3-4 defensive end could put up these kinds of numbers. 3-4 defensive ends are supposed to hold blockers. They aren't supposed to thrive in the gaps and backfields of the offense. They aren't supposed to rush the passer. But by using Watt in a 3-4, it creates multiple opportunities every game to for him to go against slower offensive linemen in a one vs. one situation play-side. Most run plays against this defense leave one man all by himself to block Watt.

Blocking Watt with just one man is doom. Over and over again, he will swim past the offensive lineman and leave him floundering like a fish as he creates negative plays. For you to have any success running at Watt, you have to double team him, and the 3-4 limits these opportunities.

4th Quarter, 15:00 Remaining vs. DAL. Result: DeMarco Murray Middle for 0 Yards.

Neutralizing Watt isn't simple. You can't just run away from him. Most defensive linemen who possess Watt's strength to attack the play-side of the offense lack the speed to make plays from the backside. Yet Watt isn't like most defensive linemen.

Dallas is running their inside zone play (Read this here if you would like to learn more about the Dallas offensive line). Play-side they get an "Ace" between Travis Frederick (#72) and Zack Martin (#70), and Doug Free (#68) blocks Brooks Reed on the edge. On the back-side, Ronald Leary (#65), and Tyron Smith (#77) have a "Deuce", and the professional, Jason Witten, has J.J. Watt all to himself.

Watt 19-1

This play is designed to be run through the "B" gap on the play-side. Watt is a "6" (Head up on the tight end) on the other side. For him to make a tackle, he has to come across five gaps. This should be an easy block for Witten, who only needs to briefly hinder Watt so the 4.4 speed of Murray can get to the hole. Usually Witten will take a short power step (a six inch step forward) in this situation, but he can't get beat inside and give Watt a quicker path to the ball carrier. So instead he takes a zone step to the right. Rather than plunge inside the gap at the snap of the ball, Watt pops out of his stance and surveys the play.

Watt 19-2

Watt snags the outside half of Witten like a bear spelunking a conifer and stares into the backfield. This leaves Witten's head on Watt's inside shoulder. Now Watt has outside leverage, which is what Witten prefers because defensive ends shouldn't be able to fight around the edge on the back-side and still make a play on the ball carrier. By looking at Murray's feet, Watt recognizes that the play is going the other way so now he can shed and chase.

Watt 19-3

Watt takes his right arm and wraps it around Witten's back. He pulls the rug from underneath Witten and lets his momentum carry him up the field as he slips around his block.

Watt 19-4

The key here is that Watt instantly recognizes where the play is going. He plants his right foot and stays flat down the line of scrimmage. He doesn't just attack the outside shoulder and head straight into the backfield, which would take him out of the play.

Watt 19-5

Witten is completely turned around to the sideline, and Watt is in the backfield when Murray gets the hand-off. The real fun begins now. Watt gets to pursue the ball carrier. It's also worth noting he's the only one in position to make a negative play here. Play-side, there is a huge hole. The double teams have created a new line of scrimmage, and Brian Cushing, the only man unblocked, is standing behind a mound of bodies and still has yet to recognize the play.

Watt 19-6

When Watt comes round the corner, he dips and accelerates after Murray.

Watt 19-7

Then Watt leaps and brings down the NFL's leading rusher from around the ankles.

Watt 19-8

Watt 19-9

His first three steps are incredible on this play.

Watt #3

Some of the greatest plays Watt makes in the run game are when he comes from the backside. Most of these plays are ones that NO ONE, and I mean NO ONE, should be able to make. He has no business making a tackle on this play, and it's even more impressive when you consider the outside path he took. You can't simply run away from Watt because of his quickness, acceleration, reaction time and hands that allow him to shed blocks rapidly and get to the ball carrier before he hits the hole. It's deflating for an offense to make great blocks play-side only to have the play obliterated like Megaton because of the man lined up on the other side of the line of scrimmage.

1st Quarter, 9:22 Remaining vs. DAL. Result: DeMarco Murray Right Tackle for 1 Yard.

Despite how transcendent Watt is, he can't make the tackle on every play. Even when he's not the one who ends up getting the tally mark in the box score, he still makes plays by opening things up for his teammates. Like the previous play, Watt is lined up on the back-side. This time he's playing as a 4i on the inside shoulder of Tyron Smith (#77). The Cowboys are running a lead play away from Watt, and Smith is forced to block Watt by himself.

Watt 15-1

Once Frederick snaps the ball, both Watt and Ryan Pickett (#94) plunge inside because of the defensive play call. Just like Witten in the previous play, Smith is trying to get to Watt's inside shoulder. On the backside, the Dallas linemen are trying to turn the shoulders of the defensive linemen to the sideline to open up the cutback lane. But Smith is already beat. He's taken one step and Watt is in the gap. This is seen by how Smith's head is lined up on Watt's outside shoulder.

Watt 15-2

The haste of his get-off takes him right into Ronald Leary (#65). This isn't supposed to be a "Deuce" block, but Watt turns it into one because of how quickly he gets into the gap. So instead of Leary moving up to the second level to block Justin Tuggle (#57), he's stuck blocking Watt.

Watt 15-3

Watt continues to fight inside and scrapes across Leary's face. The backside's job was to make sure Watt didn't win inside. So naturally, Watt beats two of Dallas's best offensive linemen by grating across their blocks and gets into the "A" gap.

Watt 15-4

Because Watt is in the "A" gap and was able to take on Leary, it leaves Tuggle all alone backside. When Murray gets the hand-off, he looks right and sees a mosh pit ensuing. None of the play-side blocks were able to get much of a push. So he glances left and sees Tuggle all by himself in what could have been a possible cutback. Rather than getting the chance to cut back and pick up a stout gain, he's forced to run head first into the play-side wall. This is all because of Watt.

Watt 15-5

Watt 15-6

DeMarco Murray ends up running right into Pickett for a gain of one yard.

Watt 15-7

Throughout any Texans game, we see Watt make tackles in the backfield, swat passes down at the line, and crunch quarterbacks' bones into shrapnel. This is because we are all dogs chasing after the red light. We are doing what we are trained to do when we watch the game--follow the ball. Yet throughout the game, there is a seedy underworld of football where Watt gobbles up two blockers and opens plays up for the rest of the defense. His impact in the game goes beyond the digits in the box score.

3rd Quarter, 5:46 Remaining vs. NYG. Result: Andre Williams Middle for No Gain.

When you think of Watt, you think of his swim move that cuts down linemen like a scythe slicing down a hardened crop of brown wheat. Despite the trademark plays he makes with his swim move, it does hurt him in some situations though. Here the Giants are running a power play with lead elements. Watt is lined up on the play-side and is head up on right tackle Justin Pugh (#67).

Watt 6-1

Watt takes a short step forward and thinks he has Pugh in a one vs. one situation. Pugh takes a power step forward.

Watt 6-2

When Pugh is about to make contact, Watt lifts his right arm to swim over Pugh. But little does he know the tight end Daniel Fells (#85) is blocking down on Watt in a "Trey" block, and Larry Donnell (#84), the tight end lined up in the flex wing position, is the one who is blocking Brooks Reed on the edge.

Watt 6-3

By lifting his arm over the top, it opens up the rest of his body for Fells. As a result, Fells gets a free shot into the ribs of Watt.

Watt 6-4

Pugh ends up like nearly everyone of Watt's swim move victims, a casualty on the battle field lying on the ground. Fells drives Watt down the line of scrimmage.

Watt 6-5

Watt 6-6

Fells pounds Watt into the ground, and Pugh fails to get back up and block the linebacker.

Watt 6-7

Watt #2

Watt's style of play does leave him susceptible to double teams. He's not trying to soak up blockers for Houston's linebackers. He's a relentless one gap animal who's trying to get in the backfield and make plays. This style, along with his transcendent swim move, opens him up to double teams and leads to him being blocked. That being said, Houston's scheme does a great job putting him in one vs. one situations, and you'd rather have Watt in the backfield ten times a game wreaking havoc than Tuggle/Cushing/Reed/Mercilus getting more open paths to the ball carrier.

4th Quarter, 10:35 Remaining. Result: DeMarco Murray Left Tackle for 5 Yards.

Here is another instance of Watt getting blocked by a double team. Watt is lined up play-side and Dallas is running an inside zone play left. Frederick and Leary have an "Ace" on Jared Crick. Smith and Witten have a "Trey" against Watt.

Watt 20-1

Witten and Smith each take a zone step right. This is a weird double team. They can't just get hip to hip and come after Watt. They have to flow towards him, wait for him to react, and then block him. If they use a traditional double, Watt can crash inside, get his head on Smith's inside shoulder and blow the play up. They're reacting rather than acting.

Watt 20-2

Smith and Witten get hip to hip once they see Watt select his gap and move towards the line of scrimmage. The hole is supposed to come right off the edge of this block. Watt dives in and tries to split through the double team.

Watt 20-3

Smith punches Watt and leaves to the second level. All he can do is chip him because too much time has passed. Murray has just cradled the ball. Smith has to get to Mike Mohamed (#54), and if he doesn't leave now, he will never get away.  Witten is a professional blocker. He never does anything spectacular, but play after play, he takes perfect steps, gets his hands inside, and uses the defender's own momentum against themselves to make his blocks. Witten is lower than Watt and takes him down the line of scrimmage.

Watt 20-5

Murray comes through the hole. He sees that Smith did a poor job blocking Mohamed, who's leaving Smith's grasp, and cuts back inside. Although Witten was able to move Watt down the line, he's only blocking his back. He has no real control of Watt because of his hand placement.

Watt 20-6

Watt stops fighting inside and begins to spin back outside.

Watt 20-8

As he comes out of his spin, Murray runs right next to him. All Witten can do is just shove his back. Anything else could negate a positive gain with a penalty.

Watt 20-9

Watt wraps Murray up and saves a possible touchdown.

Watt 20-10

Watt 20-11

As discussed in the previous play, Watt can be doubled because of his playing style. By always trying to get into the backfield, he opens his chest up for double teams to have their way with him. Yet even when he does get doubled, the offense has to do it in weird ways. They have to use their tight end to chip back inside to block him or have to flow towards him and react to his movement. The scheme and Watt's ability puts him in advantageous situations even when he's at a disadvantage. Additionally, even when Watt gets driven down the line of scrimmage, he never gives up on the play. When he's blocked, he still really isn't and can make plays no matter how great a job you do moving him.

2nd Quarter, 14:21 Remaining vs. DAL.  Result: DeMarco Murray Left Guard for 5 Yards.

The last play to look at when it comes to the run game is another one where Watt's style haunts him. Watt is lined up on the backside of an inside zone play across from Leary (#65). As I said before, Dallas is trying to turn the defender away from the play and get their back facing the sideline on the backside.

Watt 16-1

Once Romo takes the snap, Watt begins to crash inside. Leary is just trying to hinder Watt, not drive him. He doesn't come right at him. He just pops out of stance like he's in pass protection.

Watt 16-2

Leary quickly shuffles to the left and covers Watt up. Of all the linemen I've seen block Watt, Leary had the most success. He has the perfect combination of lateral movement and strength that allowed him to stay in front of Watt and control him when he made contact.

Watt 16-3

Watt does what he does best--swim over the offensive lineman. But as you can see, Leary is diagonal to the play. He wants Watt to go outside.

Watt 16-4

Leary just takes him and shoves him up the field. This play is a lot like the one where Watt beats Witten outside and makes a tackle from the backside. The difference here is that Watt can't get flat down the line of scrimmage because Leary is in the way. So instead of chasing down Murray, Watt gets tossed away like a banana peel off a bus that will doom the O'Doyles.

Watt 16-5

Murray sees the space now unoccupied and cuts back to where Watt once was.

Watt 16-6

This play is the trade-off you accept when you have J.J. Watt. As a coach, you want to put your best player in a position to make plays. This is what Wade Phillips did, and this is what Romeo Crennel is doing. He lets Watt attack one gap and destroy and raze offenses to the ground. This is why Watt has been able to lead the league in stops the last three years and has had the impact he's had in the run game. Sometimes this strategy may take him out of a play and open up a cutback for a five yard gain; others will lead to Watt swimming over the guard, tackling the running back in the backfield for a loss of six, and forcing a field goal. Even the most beautiful things in this universe have their blemishes.

Pass Game

3rd Quarter, 6:18 Remaining vs. DAL. Result: Tony Romo Complete Deep Middle to Terrance Williams for 43 Yards.

As an amateur sportswriter and a consumer of words and analysis relating to the game, there are many things that irritate me. One of which is the diction used to describe white and black players and how they play the game. White guys are known for being gritty, hard workers, who play with tons of heart and intelligence. Black players are naturals, freak athletes, and specimens. The words selected by people who write and cover the game bleed into the subconscious and are resuscitated by the consumers. This then clouds an already complicated game and leads to unfair generalities becoming universal truths. It's unfair to both sets of players to get tossed under catch-all terms and it takes away from the specific skills that make them who they are.

In the case of J.J. Watt, this couldn't be more true. When he's discussed by experts, they fail to describe his otherworldly athleticism. Watt wouldn't have the accrued the following stats throughout his career if it wasn't for his athletic ability:

Via Pro Football Focus

Year Sacks QB Hits QB Hurries Batted Passes Tackles Assists Stops
2014 4 20 17 5 17 3 18
2013 11 36 38 6 65 8 67
2012 21 25 30 15 57 9 72
2011 7 11 25 4 42 6 40
Total 43 92 92 30 181 26 197

He's the best defensive player in the game, and he's on track to become the greatest defensive player of all time because of his unique blend of skill and athleticism, not because of his grit. This play against the Cowboys is a perfect example of this. Here he's lined up against Tyron Smith, who's a top five left tackle and one of the best athletes in the game. When Watt and Smith entered the league together, they had the following workout numbers (Tyron Smith's numbers are from his Pro Day):

Player Height Arm Length Weight 40 Bench Vertical Broad 3 Cone 20 Yd Shuffle
Watt 6'5" 34" 290 4.84 34 37" 120" 6.88 4.21
Smith 6'5" 36 3/8" 307 4.93 31 29" 109" 7.47 4.68

Here Watt is lined up one vs. one against the ninth pick of the 2011 NFL Draft.

Watt 18-1

Frederick barely moves the ball and Watt is out of stance. Nobody has moved, and Watt is already accelerating towards the quarterback.

Watt 18-2

By the time Romo catches the snap, Watt has already taken three more steps than Smith. The Pro Bowl left tackle has taken one step and is already toast.

Watt 18-3

It's hard to tell how badly Smith is beat off the ball from the behind view, so let's take a look from the side. Watt is two steps up the field (lined up on the left edge of the line) before Romo gets the snap.

Watt 18-1

Watt 18-2

Watt 18-3

Smith can't kick slide or use any of the technique he's spent his entire life learning. He has to abandon everything he's ever been taught, turn backwards, and chase after Watt.

Watt 18-4

All Smith can do is slap at him.

Watt 18-5

Watt plants his left foot and begins to chase after Romo.

Watt 18-6

J.J. puts his straight line speed to work and displays how rapidly he can go from 0 to 19 mph.

Watt 18-8

Romo is a wizard and spins backward out of Watt's grasp.

Watt 18-11

Tony turns piss into Natty Light and hits Terrance Williams on a post route for a 43 yard touchdown.

Watt 18-13

Watt #4

It's a shame this play will be remembered for Romo's touchdown rather than how Watt runs right past one of the best athletes in the game like he's a jalopy smoking on the side of the interstate as everyone else cruises to their destination. But that's what happens when you don't finish the job. The foundation of defensive line play is the get-off and how quickly the lineman can react to the snap and take his first few steps. Here Watt takes three steps before a Pro Bowl offensive tackle who knows the snap count can take one. Watt is more than hard work and heart. He's a freak athlete.

1st Quarter, 13:14 Remaining vs. NYG. Result: Eli Manning Sacked by J.J. Watt for -8 Yards.

When you observe Watt rush the passer, one of the things that stands out is the simple ways he beats offensive linemen. There isn't much fanciness involved. He wins most battles because of his hands, speed, and strength. On this sack vs. Justin Pugh, we see Watt's stellar use of hands.

Watt 3-1

One of the keys of pass rush/pass protection is who makes contact first. Usually the man who punches first wins the contest. As you can see here, Pugh has his hands by his side and Watt's hands are already inches from Pugh's chest.

Watt 3-2

Watt punches Pugh. He has his hands inside and he's lower than him. Watt is in position to do whatever he would like to Pugh.

Watt 3-3

J.J. reads the play in the backfield and sees that if it's a run it's going the other way. So he takes advantage of his hand placement and uses his strength to shove Pugh to the left.

Watt 3-4

Pugh is off balance and knocked off the block. Watt then plants with his left foot and rushes the inside gap.

Watt 3-5

He now sees that Eli has kept the ball. So rather than get flat and chase down the line of scrimmage or embark on a pursuit angle, Watt will accelerate after Manning.

Watt 3-6

Like most offensive linemen we have seen so far, all Pugh can do is chase backwards and shove the side of Watt.

Watt 3-7

Watt 3-8

Manning clutches the ball like he does his stuffed bear, Mr. Gigglesworth, every night before bed once his Kool-Aid Jammer is sucked dry.

Watt 3-9

Watt picks up his second sack of the year solely because of his hands. There aren't any pass rush moves here. No ripping, swimming, juking, or spinning.  Just good ole fashion hand placement and strength.

4th Quarter, 11:34 Remaining vs. WSH. Result: Robert Griffin III Sacked by J.J. Watt for -6 Yards.

Even though there is a lack of flash in how Watt rushes the passer, he still has a few moves at his disposal. Against the Redskins, he uses his rip to get past Tyler Polumbus en route to Robert Griffin.

Watt 2-1

Polumbus and Watt leap out of their stance. Polumbus doesn't have a real kick slide here. He's more aggressive and tries to come directly at Watt. J.J. counters by coming low off the ball and gets his hands up to knock Polumbus's punch away.

Watt 2-2

Polumbus has one hand on the back of Watt and the other on Watt's inside number nine. This is because of Watt's hands. J.J. was able to shield the center of his body by keeping his hands up in the previous image. Now Watt dips to create leverage and begins to rush the passer. His right arm is near Polumbus's leg.

Watt 2-3

He then rips that right arm and gets underneath Polumbus's stinky little armpit.

Watt 2-4

Then he scurries up field while using his inside leverage to scrape Polumbus off the block.

Watt 2-5

Polumbus is now turned off Watt. His body isn't in front of him and Watt has an open path to RGIII. He plants his left foot and moves down this flat plane towards the quarterback.

Watt 2-6

The next three images are another example of Watt's rip from a different angle.

Watt 8-3

Look at how low Watt gets when he dips to get that left arm underneath the guard.

Watt 8-4

When he rips up, he removes the guard's hands off of him.

Watt 8-5

Back to Washington... another offensive lineman shoves and holds the side of Watt as he collides into RGIII.

Watt 2-7

Watt also doesn't let himself get too far up the pocket. When Watt sees that he's behind RGIII, he immediately corrects and comes back to the quarterback.

Watt 2-8

Watt 2-9

RGIII tosses and turns and let's out a gruff, "Aaaaa...sssss....aaaaa".

Watt 2-10

Watt #5

1st Quarter, 11:45 Remaining vs. WSH. Result: Robert Griffin III Complete Short Right to DeSean Jackson for No Gain.

The rip is Watt's go-to move when he rushes the outside shoulder of the offensive lineman. But a defensive lineman needs more than one move to be successful. If he over-relies on one type of move, the offensive lineman will sit and wait on it and turn a hurricane into a soft spring breeze. When an offensive lineman hurries out of his stance and over-sets on Watt's outside move, Watt counters by bull-rushing through him.

Watt 1-1

Watt is lined up against Redskins right guard Shawn Lauvao (#77). When RGIII takes the snap, Watt has his head on Lauvaou's outside shoulder. It looks as if he's setting up an outside move. Shawn looks like a redwood when he gets out of his stance. Compared to the right guard, Lauvao has his knees barely bent and is sitting in a stool rather than a chair. Lauvao has spent all week learning all about Watt's speed, so he rushes to get out of his stance. This leaves him high and out of position.

Watt 1-2

But instead of billowing into the outside shoulder, Watt punches the chest of Lauvao. He observes how high Lauvao is and chooses to go through him instead of around him.

Watt 1-3

Watt's punch immediately knocks Lauvao backwards and stumbling. He might have even have bowled him over, but Lauvao was able to snag onto Watt for dear life like Mufasa holding onto the edge of a cliff that overlooks a stampede of wildebeests. Watt has himself separated off the block, so he pumps his feet and drives the guard farther and farther into the depths of the backfield.

Watt 1-4

Watt is able to use one arm to keep the 315 pound man from recovering.

Watt 1-5

Watt 1-6

He plops the guard over and leaps over the top of him in one motion to hit RGIII.

Watt 1-7

Watt 1-8

This play is what makes Watt such a devastating pass rusher. After using his get-off and rip to rush around offensive linemen, he can counter-attack them when they begin to hurry up, play with poor technique, or over-set on his outside moves by just running through them.

Watt #6

4th Quarter, 13:52 Remaining vs. BUF. Result: E.J. Manuel Incomplete Deep Right to Robert Woods.

Like Phillips before him, Crennel has one of the greatest jobs on the planet. He gets to go home, put on the Cool, and create beautiful stunts and blitz packages to open up pass rushing lanes for Watt. The Bills have a "Ringo" call and the center, right guard, and right tackle shift one gap over. On the left-side of the line, they each are playing big on big. Houston is running a stunt where the nose tackle Tim Jamison (#96) crashes into the "A" gap to eat up both the guard and center and then Watt peels around.

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Jamison sucks up the center Eric Wood (#70) and the right guard Erik Pears (#79) offers a hand inside as Watt knifes around Jamison.

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In a perfect world, the center would punch Jamison, pass him into the "B" gap for Pears, and then look back to the "A" gap for a blitzer. Instead, he turns his shoulders all the way around and commits to Jamison rather than passing him along. What makes Watt such a beautiful puzzle piece in blitz packages is his speed. It's hard to tell in the images, but you'll see in the GIF below. He's able to move from a wide "5" in the "C" gap back inside to the "A" gap with a clap of the hands. What also makes Watt such a beautiful puzzle piece in blitz packages is his technique. He comes directly off of Wood's side. There's no wasted steps. He's flat and aerodynamic around the edge.

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By the time Wood realizes WTF is going on, Watt has burned past him and has a straight shot to Manuel.

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After crapping himself, Manuel runs to the right. Watt plants and pursues.

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Manuel is just barely able to get the pass away and escapes the safety.

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Watt 13-8

Watt #7

Two things make Watt great in stunts--his speed and the angles he rushes with. He can leap from gap to gap with the greatest of ease and does it in the most streamlined way possible. Crennel has been great at freeing up one man this season when he calls for the blitz even though he's only had Watt and a big bag of farts to work with. Once Jadeveon Clowney gets back, these Watt stunts are going to become even more gruesome and Crenell will have even more colors and mediums to work with when he turns his imagination into masterpieces.

3rd Quarter, 13:14 Remaining vs. BUF. Result: E.J. Manuel Pass Incomplete Short Right to Fred Jackson Intercepted by J.J. Watt and Returned 80 Yards for a Touchdown.

Imagine you are a quarterback. Before the snap, you read the defense and see they are overloading one side of the line of scrimmage with a blitz. You believe one man is going to come free based on the protection. You know you need to get the ball out quickly. You also have one of the league's best pass catching running backs going out to the flat opposite of the blitz.

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So you take the snap. Recognize the blitz.

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You look to throw to your running back, who's wide open.

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You release the pass.

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Only to have J.J. Watt sit on your throw instead of chasing up the field like every other defensive player in the league does when they are rushing off the edge unblocked.

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Then you watch J.J. Watt snag the pass screaming through the atmosphere as if he's that pigeon who exploded midair after being pelted with a Randy Johnson fastball, except this time he catches it and turns a drive that should have ended in at least 3 into an 80 yard touchdown for the opponent.

These types of plays are what separates J.J. Watt from the rest of the league. Robert Quinn is a stellar pass rusher. Muhammad Wilkerson is an immovable force in the run game. Richard Sherman can shut down a third of the field. Lavonte David obliterates ball carriers in the backfield. But none of the dominant defensive players in the league can play both the run and pass and make game-changing plays like Watt does. There's always a mystery surrounding what he will do next.

Against the Colts, Watt answered with ballerina-esque tumbling to dodge every offensive player when he rolled around the ground to recover a fumble that he proceeded to take 55 yards for a touchdown and turn a lead that was once insurmountable into a one possession game. What he does next, I don't know, but I know he will do something else that only he could pull off.

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Now imagine you are an offensive lineman. You have a perfect pass set, you punch Watt right into the chest, you grab his numbers, you keep your feet moving and stay in front of him. You have the battle won. But then disaster strikes. The man you are protecting throws the ball. Watt reads his eyes and jumps at the exact moment the pass is released and knocks the pass out of the air like a butterfly hunter.

Watt Swatt

1st Quarter, 15:00 Remaining vs. BUF, Result: E.J. Manuel Pass Complete Short Right to Frank Summers for 3 Yards.

Every week before Houston plays Team X, the storyline going into it is, "How can you stop J.J. Watt?" and the answer is the same every week:  You really can't. You can throw quick passes to negate his pass rush, you can run at him only if you double team him, you can allow him to take himself out of plays at times, or you can hold on for dear life as he drags your limp carcass across the field.  Even then, he's going to make plays. The latter is the newest strategy opposing offenses have used successfully this year, simply because it's impossible to call every holding penalty. It's better to have zero to one ten yard holding penalties a game rather than a loss of down, a eight yard loss, and a gouged quarterback. The risk of a penalty outweighs the reward of a cleanish pocket. But even when you do hold Watt, he can still get to the ball carrier.

Here Buffalo is running a playaction pass. The offensive line is blocking one gap over - except for the tight end, who seals the edge - which means Watt is lined up against right guard Erik Pears (#79).

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Watt and Jared Crick each crash inside because they are expecting the run. Pears takes a slide step right to block Watt, but he has to move back inside when J.J. descends back to the "A" gap. This leaves Pears with a base that is way too wide. He has no strength at the moment.

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Pears moves over and Watt explodes into his chest.

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Watt then fights back into the other gap now that Pears' momentum is going backwards. Pears grabs the outside of Watt's pads and holds on.

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Watt keeps scratching and clawing inside.

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Pears' hold turns Watt's back towards the sideline. Watt is scrounging and Pears has vice-grips attached to his shoulders.

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Finally, after holding onto Watt for the last five yards, Pears lets Watt go.

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Watt then leaps onto Manuel like a Sumatran Tiger hopping onto the back of a clueless goat's neck. Even if you hold onto Watt, he'll still get to the quarterback.  If that doesn't work...

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Watt #8 can hold some more...

Watt Hold

...and if that doesn't work, you can channel your inner Martin Brodeur and trip him like a puck gliding toward the "2" hole.

Watt Trip

You really can't stop J.J. Watt. Like America spreading across the West, Watt is going to make plays and impact every game.  It's manifest destiny. Yes, you can double and triple team him. Yes, he'll take himself out of plays. Yes, you can have success running at him. Yes, you can grab, hold, and pluck his eyes out. But even then, he's going to make plays. You can mitigate him, but he'll still have a stat line like he had in Week Two gainst Oakland--three quarterback hits and three quarterback hurries while impacting the game because of the focus he commands. He truly is unstoppable.

At the slightest sight of the ball's movement the man explodes from his cocoon like a music-making serpent ruining the day of the unsuspecting hiker. His hands explode into the chest of the wrong color in front of him. The impact leaves the other's guts rankled, battered and bleeding internally. The man pumps his feet like an ancient locomotive. He raises his right arm. In one swift movement, he lifts it over the other, punches him in the back, and tosses him away like a newborn bastard off a cliff.  In that movement, he is the truth. He is the immense power capable in all mortal men, the art and beauty of the physique. Now he resides where he's forbidden. He's the denizen of the backfield.

He flattens down and narrows his angle. He spots the man with the ball. His legs re-accelerate, his arms rapidly move from 180 to 0 degrees. He's flying now. The man with the ball has his back turned to him. He untethers himself from the ground he's bounded to and into the man with the ball. The man with the ball feels his ribs crack and sizzle. The breathe deflates out of his lungs like the soul of the newly deceased. He's a specter gliding and floating through the fog as his spirit carries upwards while his body plummets back down to the Earth. The man with the ball lies in a tangled heap. He's nothing more than a pile of dirty clothes covered in fluids and stains. The man leaps off of him. He stands in the middle of his partition. He creates a flat plane with the fingers on his brace riddled arm. He then lifts the mummified arm up to his forehead for his apostles and with a fury, he thrashes it back down unleashing a gust towards the turf. His cathedral rocks back and forth as the coagulation of gore, bone and sea hurl hoarse screams that ejaculate phlegm and leave an aftertaste of pennies in their lungs.

The game continues.

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