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Watt is only human... probably

Texans end establishing self as top defender in the NFL

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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Call it an example of Murphy's Law, but just when quarterback Mark Sanchez and the New York Jets offence have hit a low in terms of injuries and production, the last man they want to see is coming to visit Monday night at MetLife Stadium. Houston defensive end J.J. Watt, in only his second season, quickly is becoming the best defender in the NFL.

Or, as Jets' offensive co-ordinator Tony Sparano put it, "He isn't 'becoming' one of them; he's playing at a really high level right now. The number of balls he tips, the number of tackles for losses, the amount of sacks -- you can't argue he's not playing the best out of anybody in the league right now on defence."

To make matters worse, the 6-5, 295-pound end out of Wisconsin is just one cog in the league's No. 1 defence, which is loaded with talent. Defensive end Antonio Smith and linebacker Brian Cushing are Pro Bowlers, and linebackers Connor Barwin and Brooks Reed add to a formidable pass rush.

But it's Watt, who was named AFC defensive player of the month for September, who has the league buzzing. Through four games, he leads the NFL with 7 1/2 sacks and has 10 quarterback hits, five passes defenced and two fumble recoveries.

"It's unusual to get a 3-4 end with his kind of athleticism," Jets' coach Rex Ryan said of Watt. Recalling the great 1985 Chicago Bears defense run by his father, Buddy, Ryan said Watt reminds him of Hall of Fame defensive end Dan Hampton, a/k/a "Danimal."

Veteran guard Brandon Moore is suitably impressed with Watt. He describes him as a player with a "high motor," who never takes a play off. But Watt's success is based on another element.

"He understands blocking schemes," Moore said. "If you're leaning one way in the run game, he'll 'ole' you and 'swim' you and come behind you, beat you across your face real quick. He understands what plays are coming his way or a certain alignment, where there's only certain blocks you can do.

"These guys don't just make great plays because they're athletes. He's smart, and he's a great athlete."

Moore also credited Texans' defensive co-ordinator Wade Phillips for moving Watt around to maximize his effectiveness. Identifying his location before each snap is key for the Jets.

"There's so much confusion going on out there that Watt kind of ends up getting lost and will end up squeaking through for a sack," guard Matt Slauson said. "The whole defence is creating opportunities for him."

Fullback Konrad Reuland, who plays a vital role in pass protection said, "The issue is their front seven is really good top to bottom, but J.J. is the most talented.

"He's one of the most dominant players I've seen on film, but we have a good plan protection-wise to stop him. We did a great job on (Buffalo defensive end) Mario Williams in Week 1, so, I think we'll rise to the occasion. He still is human, so..."

-- Newsday

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 7, 2012 B5

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