Fear and planning hasn’t been reduced by scarce film.
The Redskins open the season at the Houston Texans on Sunday, when they will line up against the league’s leading individual defensive menace: J.J. Watt.
Watt, who signed a $ 100 million contract extension Tuesday to become the highest-paid defensive player in league history, leads the NFL with 31 sacks the last two seasons. His long arms, massive frame and multitude of rush moves make him an almost unsolvable puzzle.
In 2012, Watt, 6-foot-5, 289 pounds, became the first player in NFL history to have more than 14 sacks and 14 passes defensed in a season. He broke Mario Williams‘ franchise-record by finishing with 20.5 sacks that year. He was a unanimous first-team All-Pro pick in 2012 and was again named first-team All-Pro following last season.
His rise was unlikely. Watt, rated a two-star recruit out of high school in Pewaukee, Wisconsin, went to Central Michigan as a tight end before walking on at Wisconsin. He switched to defense in Madison.
Despite Watt’s abilities — and high preseason expectations attached to the Texans last year — Houston crashed. It went from 2-0 to 2-14, a disaster which provided the No. 1 overall pick in this spring’s draft.
That earned Watt a freak running mate, defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.
At 6-foot-5, 266 pounds, Clowney is almost as big as Watt, but faster. Matched together, the Texans expect to have one of the best pass rushes in the league.
“I mean, you don’t need to watch much film on Clowney to see what he can do,” Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III said.
That’s a good thing, because there is not much. Clowney was limited during the preseason after undergoing surgery for a sports hernia in June. He and Watt didn’t play much together. In addition, the Texans, like the Redskins, have a new coach, Bill O’Brien. How O’Brien will use the duo — on opposite edges or, at times, lined up next to each other — will be seen for the first time Sunday.
What’s clear is each will be a problem, particularly Watt. Last season, he often lined up on the left edge before tucking inside to face a guard a snap later. He uses a bull rush, rip and spin moves to get toward the quarterback. He’s also a master at batting down passes, a byproduct of his extended arms.
“He just kind of rag-dolls guys at times because guys can’t get their hands on him because he’s so long,” Redskins left tackle Trent Williams said. “He’s just able to do what he wants with them.
“He’s got it all. He doesn’t have a weakness, you have to make sure you cover him up.”
Considering the amount of pre-snap realignment by Watt and, likely, Clowney, identification and communication inside NRG Stadium becomes key for the Redskins.
“I can’t see anybody in their right mind who wouldn’t locate J.J. Watt pre-snap,” Williams said. “Make sure you got two guys on him, three guys on him, at all times.”
One of those opposing Watt will be right tackle Tyler Polumbus, no small man at 6-foot-8, 308 pounds. Asked the key to stopping Watt, Polumbus smiled.
“I wouldn’t want to really throw that out there,” he said.
The Redskins will hope they have that in their defensive meeting room.
As for Watt, he and O’Brien deflected questions about Clowney. When specifically asked about the dreadlocked rookie, each answered by touting the defense as a whole. Clowney did not speak with reporters Wednesday.
Watt also said he hasn’t had any conversations with Griffin.
“Hopefully we’ll cross paths on Sunday, you know?”
Which is exactly what the Redskins don’t want.