Casual football fans living in New England couldn’t be blamed for scratching their heads and wondering what’s the big deal about this J.J. Watt fella. Watt now has played five games against the Patriots and recorded a half sack in 300 minutes of play. For his career, Watt averages 4.6 sacks per five games.
It’s entirely fair to say Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels have figured out how to neutralize the most dominant defensive player in the NFL. Watt, who came into the season with a back injury, recorded two tackles and a hurry in 51 snaps Thursday night in the Patriots’ 27-0 win. Patriots defensive tackle Anthony Johnson, who was out of the NFL last year, was more productive in less than half as many snaps.
So, how did the Patriots’ offense do it? By taking the box jump king very seriously and actively avoiding him. Take note, NFL head coaches.
— The Patriots ran away from Watt 21 times for 139 yards and three touchdowns and toward him just five times for 23 yards — and only two of those runs were traditional handoffs, totaling 3 yards.
— Watt was handled by a single blocker in the passing game eight times, double-teamed eight times and triple-teamed once. When a single blocker was responsible for Watt, rookie quarterback Jacoby Brissett got rid of the ball in an average of just 1.77 seconds. When Watt was double- or triple-teamed, Brissett was able to take his time by getting rid of it in 2.77 seconds.
— Watt primarily lines up on the defensive left, so Marcus Cannon blocked him most frequently, taking him on 24 times total, 15 by himself, eight in the passing game and three by himself in the passing game. Shaq Mason, Rob Gronkowski, Cameron Fleming, David Andrews, Joe Thuney, Martellus Bennett, James Develin and Nate Solder also took their turns blocking Watt and all did a great job. The game plan can only go as far as player production can take it.
Watt’s lone hurry can barely even be considered a pressure because of how long Brissett held the ball on the play. Watt rushed from the inside, was blocked by Mason, then looped around to the defensive right when Patriots running back James White went into the flat to run a route. Watt forced Brissett to leave the pocket, by which time Cannon had looped around and knocked Watt to the ground.
It would be far from the only time Watt found himself on the ground. Solder used Watt’s leverage to throw him to the ground on a screen pass later in the game.
Watt certainly wasn’t terrible, and his performance probably would have been considered average, given the challenge presented by the Patriots, for any other NFL defensive lineman. But it was a below average showing for Watt’s standards.
Perhaps he’ll have more success against the Patriots if these two teams meet in the playoffs when he’s fully healthy, but judging by his past performances against Belichick and McDaniels, that seems unlikely.
Here are the rest of the takeaways from our film review:
— Brissett wasn’t fantastic throwing the ball, going 0 for 3 on passes that traveled through the air more than 15 yards, but he made up for it with his rushing ability. Brissett isn’t overly fast, but he showed the agility to make defenders miss on his 27-yard touchdown and another designed 13-yard run.
— Linebacker Jamie Collins looked just as good on second viewing. When he finds a balance between playing intense and controlled, he might be the best linebacker in the NFL.
— The Patriots got creative by going back to the basics with their offense. Some of their formations looked like what you’d find on high school fields across Massachusetts. That’s why we saw Brissett carry the ball eight times, Julian Edelman three times and Bennett once.
— Texans linebacker Benardrick McKinney is really good and would have fit perfectly in the Patriots’ defense if he had fallen to them in the second round of the 2015 NFL Draft.
— The Patriots mixed man and zone coverages throughout the night in an attempt to prevent the Texans from hitting on deep passes to Will Fuller and DeAndre Hopkins. Brock Osweiler went 2 of 8 on deep passes for 34 yards with an interception. Safety Duron Harmon, who played 69 of 71 defensive snaps, deserves credit along with fellow safety Devin McCourty and cornerbacks Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan for preventing big plays.
— Texans running backs averaged just 3.7 yards per carry against the Patriots’ defensive front. Defensive tackle Malcom Brown and defensive end Trey Flowers showed up positively in the run game.
— Defensive end Chris Long was the Patriots’ most productive pass rusher per snap, though Jabaal Sheard recorded two sacks.
Thumbnail photo via Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports Images