Eric Winston has seen J.J. Watt many times — the two were teammates in Houston. From the start, the current Cardinals right tackle said, it was obvious Watt was doing to be a good defensive lineman. “You didn’t know how good,” Winston said. “He’s the best of the best.”
The Texans come into University of Phoenix Stadium Sunday bringing along with them the No. 1-ranked defense in the NFL (although they have an incongruous 2-6 record, but that’s a discussion for another post.) That defense is led by Watt, the maniacal, sack-grabbing, pass-knockdown king.
“I don’t think it’s an overstatement when (Texans defensive coordinator) Wade (Phillips) said before the season he’s a Hall of Famer,” Winston said. “No one has blocked him yet. Hopefully I can get in his way a few times.”
How the Cardinals handle Watt — or at least, deal with him — will be one of the more important aspects of Sunday’s game. Starting left tackle Bradley Sowell has been slowed by illness and, as of Friday morning, his status remains up in the air. But it’s not like Watt is going to walk over to right defensive end and stay there. Cardinals offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Harold Goodwin said the Texans move Watt around considerably in sub-packages, and there is a good chance every single one of the offensive linemen will get at least a taste of Watt Sunday.
Watt had a spectacular year last season — his stats were just silly — with sacks and pass bat-downs. Those numbers a lower this year, but he has still been dominant — profootballfocus.com has him leading the league in run stops (23) and quarterback disruptions (41). Officially, he has 5½ sacks, 13 tackles for loss and the respect of every opponent as he bids for a second straight defensive player of the year award.
Carson Palmer has struggled when feeling pressure, which Watt and former Cardinal Antonio Smith figure to provide. What makes Watt so frustrating is his ability to get his arms in the passing lanes and knock down a pass even when he can’t get to the QB. Palmer said as a quarterback, you can’t just start changing arm angles or adjusting passes out of Watt fear. “Odds are he’s done it every game and it will happen,” Palmer said. “You just have to reload and go to the next play.”
Cardinals coach Bruce Arians called blocking Watt “an all-day chore.” The Cardinals have struggled with top rushers like the Rams’ Robert Quinn and the Seahawks’ Michael Bennett. It figures to be a turning point Sunday. Watt knows this. Asked how he would handle himself if he were scheming an offense, Watt briefly paused.
“That’s a good question,” Watt said. “I’d use two guys.”
Tags: Bruce Arians, Carson Palmer, Eric Winston, Harold Goodwin, JJ Watt
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