How do you prepare for a player who literally doesn't have a weakness on the football field?
That will be the enormous challenge for the Cleveland Browns coaching staff and offensive line this week as the Houston Texans fly into Northeast Ohio for an intriguing November matchup.
In nine games this season, J.J. Watt already has 39 tackles, 8.5 sacks, three fumble recoveries, one interception and one touchdown. He's even scored a touchdown on offense. There's a reason the Texans defensive weapon is gracing the cover of both ESPN the magazine and Sports Illustrated this week.
"It's just that blend of size, speed, character, work ethic," said coach Mike Pettine. "It's rare that somebody has it all, and really you look for a weakness and it's hard to find one."
"I don't think I've ever seen a player as disruptive as him," said eight-year veteran left tackle Joe Thomas.
The Texans line up Watt all over the defense, presenting problems for opposing offenses not only on Sunday's but while preparing throughout the week. Watt can play outside linebacker, defensive end and even line up as a nose tackle in certain run stopping situations. Defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel – a familiar name in Cleveland – does a fantastic job of mixing up the looks.
So the Browns will have to counter. Watt will be double-teamed on most plays. It'll be Cleveland's job to best disguise those looks. Whether it's a guard and a tackle, a tackle and a tight end, a guard or a running back, motioning tight ends and receivers – it'll be imperative for Cleveland not to show their hand so they can block Watt where he's not expecting it. Hours in the classroom have been dedicated to how to prepare for Watt. It'll be a chess match and the Browns can't forget about the other 10 defenders either – Houston leads the league with 21 takeaways.
The biggest area where Watt has been able to exploit his opponents is in effort. We dare you to pull up the film and locate a play where number 99 isn't giving 100 percent. Watt has shown the mental capacity to locate the weak link on an offensive line and attack it relentlessly until he makes a big play happen. The word motor is often overused when describing athletes. It's not when writing about Watt.
"He plays so hard that sometimes you could see they either substitute for him or he burns himself out. To me, that's a compliment that he plays as hard as he does," said Pettine.
"He's one of the best players in the league," said guard John Greco. "You've got to have your 'A' game every play. He's going to bring it."
The difference between winning and losing against Houston could come down to the Browns containing Watt as best they can. If Hoyer has a relatively clean pocket and Cleveland can open up holes for its three-headed-monster running game, opportunities to succeed should present themselves.
That's easier said than done.