Being from Houston, working with the Texans, I get asked a lot by people, what makes JJ Watt great?
I don't want to throw "Put the Film on, Bro" at them but honestly, it's right there on tape as clear as day. Sometimes, though, it's the little things that you see on tape though that stand out, to me, even more so than the sacks, the touchdowns or the interceptions.
One key in football, especially on the defensive side of the ball, is adaptation. From game to game, play to play or even actually during a play, how does a player adapt to the changing conditions? Knowing one's assignment is one thing but to alter, adapt and succeed is quite another.
This league is full of edge rush threats. Denver's Von Miller and Kansas City's Justin Houston are extraordinary OLB type edge rushers. Cameron Wake is a hand in the dirt pass rushing star in Miami. Seattle's Michael Bennett can push the pocket from the outside and the interior. But, it's become clear in his four years as a Texan that Watt is the most disruptive pass rusher on the planet.
In my opinion though, it's his ability to defeat the different run schemes that teams throw at him and the Texans defense that truly separates him from all other defenders in the league.
I've said this before in relation to Watt, he doesn't always go by what the textbook tells him to do. When a team runs away from him, Watt will often slip blocks going the other direction because he knows he can get clear from blockers then use his quickness to track the run from behind. Some teams have tried to exploit Watt that way but not many have had success. One way that teams can win against any aggressive defensive end is to get him thinking pass then slip a run around or past him.
Cleveland tried to do that in last year's game but Watt shut it down. In so doing, he truly showed how he can adapt instantly to changing game conditions/situations, all in one snap.
Cleveland trailed the Texans by ten on first and ten after a Texans punt. Trailing in the second half, the Browns put 11 personnel (1 RB, 1 TE & 3 WR) on the field. Expecting pass, with that lead, DC Romeo Crennel countered with his nickel personnel on the field. Watt, as such, aligned at the left defensive end spot.
Off the snap, it's clear that Watt was expecting pass and had initiated his pass rush. But, at this point right here…
...he recognized that it wasn't pass and that it was zone toss his way. The major key to this play was how he adapted from edge rusher to contain player in a snap. With no OLB on the field, Watt clearly had contain to his side against any run. So, he instantly got square and began to defeat the block.
He shot his hands at Browns RT Mitchell Schwartz and kept the Browns OL from getting to his outside shoulder. In so doing, Watt kept his outside arm free while holding Schwartz at bay.
Watt felt Browns RB Ben Tate continue to threaten his outside so he eventually shed Schwartz.
The play was dead at that point but Tate still thought he could beat Watt to the sideline.
The seven yard tackle for a loss put the Browns in 2nd and 17 and after two incompletions on sure passing downs, they punted back to the Texans. Houston drove down for a field goal a few plays later.
I love the sacks and big plays as much as the next guy. However, it's when you look at the little things, like how Watt adapts to how teams try to slow him down on an individual play basis, that you truly can appreciate his all-around excellence.
Defensive end J.J. Watt's 2014 was one to remember. Game-by-game, a Texans' opponent shared his thoughts on the Defensive Player of the Year.