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The Film Room: J.J. Watt Was And Is The Entirety Of The Texans’ Pass Rush

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A breakdown of a classic J.J. Watt performance.

NFL: Houston Texans at Indianapolis Colts
baby when i get you get you get you
Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

Visions seen in the carpet at the end of August are now swirling in October. Whitney Mercilus has faded. He made a few big plays, slammed some sacks tossed up to him by D.J. Reader, but since Week Three he has one sack, one quarterback hit, one forced fumble, and one fumble recovery since his four sack start. His rushes are too wide and looping. His spin moves are meek. D.J. Reader has chilled down too against better interior blocking offenses. Why can’t everyone be Dan Feeney? Brennan Scarlett can do a little bit of everything except rush the passer. Benardrick McKinney and Zach Cunningham can run some cute stunts, but they’re run stoppers, and hook zone sitters. Charles Omenihu is a fine fresh leg blood pumping bull rusher, but doesn’t provide constant pressure. Jacob Martin has one pass rush move. He chops and rips. He cat fights and runs really fast. This isn’t a pass rush move.

Over the last four weeks, the Texans have watched 10 passes zip into the end zone, quarterbacks are completing 65.2% of their passes, and they’ve allowed 25.5 points a game. Yes, their cornerbacks are hurt. They already miss Phillip Gaines. But it was only a matter of time before their secondary, with all that man coverage, and Justin Reid playing where the ocean meets the horizon, was attacked and shredded like cheap cheese. Houston depends on their pass rush. During this run they have seven sacks. They’re now 22nd in pass defense DVOA after oscillating around 10th to start the season.

After Ryan Ramcyzk showed everyone how to time punches, Watt has been the one constant. This season he has 4 sacks, 20 quarterback hits, is first in the league with 36 pressures, and is held all the time. Don’t let the sack drop off from 16 fool you. The only difference is he isn’t eating up Chad Wheeler this season. He’s been just as good. And since week four, like last week, he’s been gravity, the constant force pulling the Texans’ pass rush to the quarterback. Last week he had six quarterback hits, getting so close so many times, and irritating so many other passes. The rest of the defense had 1 sack that took 5.3 seconds, and 2 hits. That’s it.

Romeo Crennel was vital to Watt’s success against Indy. The Colts’ offensive line composed of Anthony Castonzo, Quenton Nelson, Ryan Kelly, Mark Glowinski, and Braden Smith, has one board that’s a little green from all the rain we’ve had this year. Glowinski is that warped board.

For the last year and a half Romeo Crennel has left Watt against the opponent’s right tackle and told him to work work work. Loops inside would break up the monotony, get him a quicker path, and away from all those chips and broken ribs. Last week was different. Crennel had Watt working against Glowinksi immediately.

It’s first and ten. Ball at their own six. The Colts aren’t cowards. They come out in an empty set and let Jacoby Brisset feel so alive with his feet near the goal line. Watt (#99 lol) is matched up against Glowinski (#64). Watt is a 4i. He’s wide. It’s man on man since Ryan Kelly (#78) is shading one gap over to block D.J. Reader (#98).

Glowinski gets a good set. Quick. Off the ball. Watt can’t win wide. He comes at him head on. He lowers his lead, gets into his bosom and extends, then looks at Brisset. I don’t know what’s in his head. I can’t ask him. I’m four hours away. But I’m assuming he assumes the Colts are throwing a quick pass. After extending, he leaps, as he leaps, Brisset his winding back to throw. Watt’s a balloon. He times it too well, and catches the ball on the way down. This is pass defensed number two in 2019. He once had 16 in a season. 2012 was a long time ago.

From this point on the tone was set. It was him against Glowinski. 4i. Man on man. The very next play Watt hits Brisett for the very first time. Love this front from Crennel. He overloads the leftside and gets Reader in the left ‘A’ gap. The Colts are sliding everything one gap over to the left and playing man on man to the right. Monumental. By utilizing this front, Kelly can’t help. His back his turned to Watt and has his own problems to deal with.

Once again Glowinski sets on the outside shoulder. Watt makes his inside move. He’s tubing down the white water. Pay special attention to his hands. He doesn’t punch Glowinski. He grabs the outside chest at the exact moment Glowinski extends. Then he pulls Glowinski with his outside hand, and comes over the top with his inside hand. There’s no wasted steps around the block. Everyone yaps and yaps about edge rush bend, but interior bend is just as important. After the block he’s flat and coming straight downhill at Brisset. Glowinski can’t leap to save him.

Close. Everything is as good as it can be. Brisset still gets the ball out cleanly. Zach Cunningham can’t cover Nyheim Hines. Wide open.

Last season Watt was locked down by Braden Smith (#72) twice. Once in their regular season loss, and once again in the postseason. Watt kept trying to beat him off the edge, attack the outside shoulder, rip, and bend. It didn’t work. Smith timed his punch well. Met him at the point of attack. It looked a lot like Watt’s matchup against Ryan Ramcyzk earlier this season. That’s closer to the front of the filing cabinet.

Watt is matched up against that former foe on first and ten. Remember this. Throwing the ball on first down is good. The Colts are running play action. They try and sell it some by having Kelly and Glowinski join hips like a traditional power double team.

Glowinski is rugged. He wears a flannel shirt under his pads. He lacks nuance. He should keep his eyes on his gap. He doesn’t, and instead looks up at those linebackers. This leaves Smith without ‘B’ gap help. Watt uses a different variation of a swim move. This one he doesn’t grab. He slaps the inside shoulder, and swims over the top. Smith sets on the ‘C’ gap, as he’s supposed to, and can’t react back inside. That damn Glowinski.

He doesn’t crash into Brisett and leave him pinned to a tree like the climax in an alien movie. Little orbs of light. Lucas Oil Stadium is actually a crop circle, that’s the only explanation for them getting away with what they get away with. He curls in the pocket and leaps at Brisset’s feet. This forces him to climb and throw on the move. The pass is high. The chasing man coverage is saved.

Teams catch on. No matter how tight the clip is on the bread, it will eventually stale, and then turn flat mountain creek blue. It’s third and ten and time to bring out the big dog brand big stunt. The Colts have six. The Texans show six with double ‘A’ gap pressure. Benardrick McKinney (#55) is in one, and Jahleel Addae is in the other. The Colts call their coverage to shift one gap right, then leave Marlon Mack (#25) against McKinney, and put Nelson on Watt in a galactic fight that takes place in the clouds.

Houston doesn’t keep it that simple. McKinney crashes the ‘A’ gap, but he isn’t straight forward. There’s value in the subtext. He pops Nelson’s inside shoulder. He never sees it. He’s too focused on Watt. McKinney turns him and leaves Mack stumbling. Watt loops, slithers amont the hot rocks, and leaps high, to try and hit the ball and affect the pass. He barely misses. Johnathan Joseph doesn’t. He tips the pass to Chester Rogers.

The Colts score. The Texans’ defense comes back out and tries again. The game slows down. The Colts try and run the ball. It doesn’t work. Indy’s running backs had 53 yards on 21 carries for 2.52 yards a carry. Mack picked up 35 yards on 13 inside carries. With Watt lined up on the right side the majority of the game they tried to go back to that ancient well. Left end rushes. It didn’t work either. Mack had 5 carries for 9 yards off the left edge.

Even from the backside Watt can affect run plays. He isn’t doing the things he once did before. He isn’t quickly swimming across the block and playing the ball. This season he has only three tackles for a loss. The same effort isn’t there. He isn’t chasing back to the football. This is 30. He’s saving himself for the passing game. Let Reader and McKinney deal with that.

This time he affects the play. The Colts run inside zone. He’s on the backside. Watt punches and yanks Glowinski then finds the ball. There’s no chance for a cutback. He’s too deep because of Mo Alie-Cox’s chasing. It’s ok. Removing the cutback is a vital. Mack’s vision can take him anywhere. There’s no limit to his psyche.

This time Watt does more than affect the play. The Colts run inside zone. Strong brutal double teams. They pull Mo Alie-Cox from the playside to seal the backside. Terrible idea. Watt flies after Smith, squeezes under Cox’s attempt, and then makes a tackle for zero on third and one. The Texans get a stop on fourth and one.

Establishing the run is a myth. It’s no different than the man drowning himself in his own reflection, or the thread in the maze. The Colts have the ball close to their own endzone. It’s first and ten. They run play action out of an off-set I formation. The Texans are in their base 3-4. Because Brandon Dunn (#92) is in the ‘A’ gap the Colts shade their protection that way. Watt is a 4i, wide and matched up against Glowinski.

The 4i is important once again here. It leaves Glowinski working outside and trying to cover Watt up. Leaving him susceptible to...yes..you got it..the swim move. This one is a different variation. Glowinski is scooting. He over extends. He doesn’t punch. Watt sees it the entire way. This time he free styles over the top, he’s a matador, the cape is red. Mack sees red running head first into him. Watt swims over him too. He shreds both of them apart leaving the lab in an eruption of gore. Brisett hides behind the coatrack. T.Y. Hilton beats man coverage, but just can’t quite hang onto a loving and beautiful throw.

How do you have a favorite on a Greatest Hits album? They’re all favorites depending on the number of disks. These words are just a @Indianapolis 2019 Greatest Hits album. This is my favorite, and the most important play of the game Watt made.

Forcing fumbles can be a skill. It still requires the ball carrier to make a mistake on their end. Recovering fumbles isn’t a skill. The ball is oblong. It bounces in funny ways. Chasing after one is like catching an armadillo. If you like to lay in the grass you’d think of it as a metaphor for life. Recovering fumbles isn’t a skill unless you’re J.J. Watt. He transcends what is universal.

Another play. Now it’s 3rd and 14. Brisett counts it up. He can throw the screen left or right. The presnap counting says left. He drops the snap. Watt helps Glowinski’s cut block by smashing him into the ground. Watt is playing the ball. Look at his eyes. Claws out. He leaps and knocks the ball out of Brissett’s hands. Unbelievable. Everyone is standing on chairs, the mouse is scurrying across the hardwood floor, Mercilus catches it, names it squeaky. Houston should have scored a touchdown on the following possession.

The Colts had enough of it. Sickening. That’s the best you got men? He’s whipping your tails out there. Coaches love to talk like this. Really get at the guts of their players. The Colts are smart and intelligent play designers. They changed things up.

Nickle defense. Wide ‘5’ v. Smith. Play action. The Colts motion Jack Doyle (#84). Watt has seen it before in a dream. He slides tighter to Smith. He sees the help coming, dodges the chip, delays the block, then waits for Angelo Blackson (#91) to get out of the way and move back inside. Once Blackson does he swims, kind of like that first swim, then bends to play Brissett. When you’re so good at one thing you sometimes don’t have to do other things. Man coverage beaten behind him.

This time Glowiniski adjusted. He finally gets Watt. He sits and delays his punch. Searching for the inside shoulder. Snatches it, latches on, and then drives him up the pocket. No one else can do anything. It’s up to Watt entirely.

This time Smith gets Watt. He quickly reacts to the inside move. The key is the hand placement. His inside hand is on his outside half. This prevents Watt from getting over him and into the gap.

How’s this for an adjustment? The Colts pull Nelson and use a natural rushing route after the fake to get two blocks on the left edge. Smith and Glowinski block down on Dunn (#92). It’s one on one blocks the rest of the way.

You can swim through water, and wade through the marshes of bodies, but you can’t swim over granite mountain tops. All you can do is look up and marvel at the top with broken teeth.

More play action. This time on first and ten. The Colts slide their coverage left, have the back seal the edge, and adjust Brissett’s release spot.

Watt is doubled. A thespian, looking for help from the gods, there is none this time. The grass stays green. Dunn and Cunningham sit still long enough to be able to run after Brissett. No completion this time.

When the Colts changed Watt’s rushes with play action, protection changes, and their blockers caught onto his goggles, cap, and speedo, the Texans’ pass rush went into a lull. I assumed, watching it live, with my dinosaur brain, assume Romeo Crennel stopped blitzing. He didn’t. The Colts made protection changes to neutralize Watt. No one else could do anything.

Football is a turned base strategy game, but the strategy isn’t stagnant. He had enough of it. Remember the loop from earlier? Crennel went back to it. He used inside stunts to once again get Watt through the interior and into Brissett.

Watt can swim against the current too. This time shadows fall from the awning. Watt has two tight ends matched up left to him, removing his outside move. Dunn (#92) crashes inside. The Colts are moving one gap towards Watt.

He’s flat. Slapping inside shoulders along the line, getting a beer, washing his hands, excuse me, and then walking back to the front of the stage. Kelly isn’t flat enough. He’s turned to his gap. Still. He can’t slide back in front of the wild armed devil. C-B-A-Watt grapples Brissett, but the quarterback completes the pass in his grasp.

2nd and 4. Indy motions the wide receiver to the line of scrimmage. Watt shifts wider. He ensures himself a one v. one matchup against Jack Doyle (#84). He goes right through him. He shifts inside, and then flips back wide to the quarterback. The sack is never going to happen. It’s a cultural norm. Brissett heaves it out of bounds.

Quarter four. Down 28-16. The Texans forced four punts to give their offense a chance. On their first two drives of the quarter, Houston used interior blitzes to create a clean path for Watt to get off the field.

This time it’s third and four. 12:22 left. This is the same stunt Houston ran with Watt and McKinney, except this time it’s Zach Cunningham (#41). It’s the same protection scheme. The difference is Cunningham isn’t sly. He rushes after Nelson head on. Intentions are clear. This leaves Watt against Mack. Have you ever walked into the side of the door and pop off it. Feels good. Watt treats Mack like this and forces Brissett to send another one towards Jack Easterby.

Third and nine. 8:56 left. ‘A’ gap pressure. Six against six. Watt fakes inside and goes wide around the back. Martin chops and rips, and kind of does something. Omenihu extends and rips. The ball is out quick and falls at feet.

Six quarterback hits. More than ten pressures according to ProFartballFocus. The entirety of the Texans rush, unless absolutes rile you up, if that’s the case, then nearly the entirety of the Texans rush.

Watt isn’t the same Gatorade commercial athlete, who would torture blockers with bullrushers, jolt off the snap and across the edge, bending like elite edge rushers, and then splatter quarterbacks across spiderweb windshields, agonizing, heaving. That peak has dropped off. The 20-20-20 club is a figment. A dragon to chase. Not a realistic goal. The run game is more optional than integral. But when the peak is that high, the climb down is still steep. This version of Watt is more intelligent. He reads the situation. His hands are spectacular. He won’t win every matchup, but he can carry the Texans’ pass rush by obliterating the best matchup available.