Jay faces a tough batter in Houston Texans DE J.J. Watt
BY MARK POTASH firstname.lastname@example.org November 7, 2012 10:16PM
Buffalo Bills v Houston Texans
Updated: December 9, 2012 7:45PM
Until Bears cornerback Charles Tillman went on his rampage, Texans defensive end J.J. Watt was the popular early favorite for NFL defensive player of the year. And he still might be.
Tillman and Watt play disparate positions but have one thing in common: a knack for getting their hands on the ball. Watt not only has 101/2 sacks, 28 tackles for loss and 21 quarterback hits in eight games, but he also has 10 pass deflections.
Watt’s ability to block passes at the line of scrimmage could be most problematic of all for Jay Cutler and the Bears against the Texans on Sunday night at Soldier Field. Four of Watt’s 10 deflections have led to interceptions, including a 52-yard touchdown by Johnathan Joseph and an 86-yard return by Brice McCain. In the playoffs against the Bengals last season, Watt picked Andy Dalton clean at the line — not even a deflection — and returned it 29 yards for a touchdown.
‘‘He did that in college, too,’’ said Bears right tackle Gabe Carimi, who played with Watt at Wisconsin in 2009 and 2010. ‘‘He’s a tall guy, so he uses that to his advantage. He’s probably done it more now because he’s an interior guy. Using his height on the interior is probably getting [him] more batted passes.’’
Carimi said the only counter move to Watt’s pass-deflecting is to ‘‘hit him low so he doesn’t want to jump up high. That’s the only way. That’s what offensive linemen are taught across the league.’’
But it’ll be mostly on Cutler to prevent Watt from deflecting his passes. All 10 of Watt’s deflections have come against four quarterbacks — the Dolphins’ Ryan Tannehill, the Jaguars’ Blaine Gabbert, the Jets’ Mark Sanchez and the Ravens’ Joe Flacco. Watt had no deflections against the Broncos’ Peyton Manning, the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers, the Titans’ Matt Hasselbeck and the Bills’ Ryan Fitzpatrick.
‘‘We have to be aware of where he’s at,’’ Cutler said. ‘‘He lines up in a lot of different positions. Wade [Phillips, the Texans’ defensive coordinator] does a great job of moving him around and using his athletic ability to their advantage.
‘‘We’ve gone against some pass rushers this year, and I thought we’ve done a better-than-average job. So hopefully we can continue it with him.’’
The 6-5, 295-pound Watt, a first-round pick (11th overall) in 2011, is in the Jared Allen mold as a high-motor, whirling-dervish type of pass rusher. In only eight games, Watt became the 11th player since 1991 to have 10 or more sacks and 10 or more pass breakups in the same season.
‘‘It’s not like facing others,’’ Bears offensive coordinator Mike Tice said. ‘‘He’s one of the top players, if not the top player we’ve played against this year. He lines up in different places, so he’s going to take turns going up and down the line, trying to make plays on us. We have to be up to the challenge, and hopefully we put in the right protection schemes to take that into account.’’