FOXBORO — Patriots players and coaches are always preaching about mental focus when talking about upcoming opponents. So, with possibly the biggest game of the season coming up with a visit from the 11-1 Houston Texans this weekend, why are the Patriots playing around with racquets?
That would be because of Texans defensive end J.J. Watt.
Tom Brady‘s not too thrilled about having to throw over some paddles at practice, but he understands — especially out of respect for Watt.
“He’s impressive as a player, as you can see on film with his agility, his quickness, his length, his instinctiveness in getting his hands up in the air and getting ready to jump and bat balls down,” Brady said. “I know coach [Bill] Belichick likes to bring guys with racquetball paddles and stick those up in the air. I’m sure there will be a whole bunch of those there this week, which doesn?t always make me very happy, but that?s probably a good way to prepare for it.”
Watt, at 6-foot-5 and 295 pounds, is one of the biggest and most physical defensive ends in football. But beyond his 15.5 sacks, which ranks third in the NFL, Watt is also notorious for his pass coverage.
Watt has 15 passes defensed on the season, which ranks him sixth in the NFL. While 48 of the top 50 guys on that list are defensive backs — 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis is the other exception at No. 50 — Watt is the only defensive lineman.
In just his second year in the NFL, Watt has already gained a reputation as one of the league’s best at batting down balls at the line. It’s even become widely known as the “Watt Swat.”
He did it three times to Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill in the season opener, three more times against Mark Sanchez, twice to Joe Flacco and a combined five times over the past three weeks in wins over the Jaguars, Lions and Titans.
Watt’s precise timing and unique ability to deflect and tip balls obviously has the Patriots worried.
“He?s the most disruptive player in the league certainly that we?ve seen. He?s really pretty good at everything,” Belichick said during a conference call on Wednesday. “It?s not just the pass rush. It?s batted balls.”
That concern is what prompted Belichick to break out the racquets this week, which Brady made sure to note they don’t do for everyone. Belichick even joked that with the size of Watt’s arms, the Patriots may need something a bit bigger.
“Yeah, maybe brooms, get it a little longer,” Belichick said in a moment of lighthearted humor.
All jokes aside, though, the Patriots understand the test that Watt and the Texans will bring at the line of scrimmage. And while Watt’s hands may not perfectly resemble racquets come Monday night, Brady will at least be ready to throw around, over and even through them.