1. Bucs

Bucs have a big challenge trying to stop Texans' Watt

J.J. Watt, sacking the Jaguars’ Blake Bortles, has been defensive player of the year twice.
J.J. Watt, sacking the Jaguars’ Blake Bortles, has been defensive player of the year twice.
Published Sep. 24, 2015

Shortly after the draft, Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston said one of the players he looked forward to facing the most in the NFL was Texans defensive end J.J. Watt.

Why would a rookie pull on Superman's cape? Risk losing a few teeth from that Crest smile? Write bad checks his offensive line can't cash?

"Be careful what you wish for," Bucs offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter warned Wednesday.

The 6-foot-5, 289-pound Watt was the league's defensive player of the year in two of the past three seasons after recording 20½ sacks in each of those seasons. His peers voted him No. 1 on NFL Network's annual top 100 list, the first time a defensive player has been so honored.

Mostly, the job of blocking Watt will fall to right tackle Gosder Cherilus and the assortment of players assigned to help him. Cherilus has faced Watt in five games during his time with the Lions and Colts. In those games, Watt has eight sacks, including four sacks and a fumble returned for a touchdown last season.

"He's in a highlight every week," Cherilus said. "I'm just going to show up and do the best that I can. Hopefully, it'll be okay.

"He's not going to give you no day off, no play off."

Coach Lovie Smith, who hates hype, knows a player such as Watt can wreck Sunday's game against the Texans for the Bucs.

"You can say, 'Hey, he is just another player, let's do our thing, " Smith said. "No. It doesn't work like that. You have to put a lot of the focus on him, and when you're that type of football player, you have to do what you can to limit the opportunities that he gets, and that's tough duty. Easier said than done. I don't think there is too much focus being placed on it."

Watt has three sacks this season despite the Texans' 0-2 start. He already has faced more triple teams than normal.

"I think so far this year, there's already been more triple teams than the past," Watt told reporters Wednesday. "But that's to be expected. I mean, that's what I would do, too. You have to continue to fight, continue to battle. Like I've always said, it makes it that much sweeter when you do get there."

But Watt doesn't have to sack the quarterback to make an impact. The man dubbed J.J. Swatt got his nickname batting down passes the way another Houston skyscraper, Hakeem Olajuwon, rejected basketballs.

To make matters more troubling for the Bucs, they start two rookies on the offensive line — left tackle Donovan Smith and right guard Ali Marpet. Watt has played almost exclusively on the left side of the Texans defensive line, but he's more likely to test Smith a time or two Sunday.

Of course, Watt isn't the only player the Bucs have to be concerned with. Jadeveon Clowney, the No. 1 pick in the 2014 draft, starts at right defensive end, while five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Vince Wilfork sits in the middle.

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Most teams have elected to double the Texans defensive ends and take their chances with Wilfork and others.

"You got two good guys coming off the edge, that's what you're going to do," Watt said. "But they're also obviously then sacrificing guys out in routes. You have to do whatever you can to fight through it and to get there. I'm no stranger to double teams. J.C. obviously hasn't been in the league for that long, but he's going to become no stranger to double teams. That's just the way it goes. You have to find a way."

By far, Watt is the best player and has the best story. He transferred to Wisconsin after playing one season as a tight end at Central Michigan. He made the Badgers team as a walk-on at defensive end and eventually became a top NFL prospect, going 11th overall to the Texans in 2011. As a rookie, Watt had 5½ sacks, but he burst onto the scene in the playoffs, recording another 3½ sacks and adding an interception return for a touchdown.

Watt already is working on his approach for facing Winston.

"You want to get there. You want to rattle him," Watt said. "You want to lay some hits on him. You want to get him off the spot. You want to get him feeling your presence early in the game."

For the record, Winston only mentioned Watt because of his admiration for him.

"It's a privilege for me," Winston said. "Me, thinking like a kid, not even thinking about going against him, I'm just like, 'Wow, we get to play JJ Watt.' It's amazing!"

So amazing is Watt that he also has three career touchdown receptions.

"Does he play offense? I thought he was a defensive guy," Smith deadpanned.



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