How Will Ravens Stop (Or Slow) J.J. Watt?

So what does Texans defensive end J.J. Watt do so well? 

"Well, where do you start? He does everything well," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "He catches passes for touchdowns, so what doesn't he do?"

The question of how to stop him may be just as difficult, or even impossible, to answer.

Watt is having a season for the ages. He's almost a shoe-in for the NFL's Defensive Most Valuable Player award, and could even pull off the rare feat of a defensive player claiming the league's overall MVP.

"They put [his] stats up on TV the other day and I thought there had to be some misprints," said Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs.

Watt has 64 tackles, including 16.5 sacks, which leaves him just a half sack behind NFL and Ravens sack leader Elvis Dumervil and Kansas City's Justin Houston. Watt has 10 passes defensed, one interception (which he took for a touchdown), and three forced fumbles (he took one to the end zone).

Oh yeah, he also has three offensive touchdown receptions. The Texans have used him in goal-line situations to catch fade passes and quick outs with one hand. Watt has more touchdown receptions this season than his teammate and seven-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Andre Johnson.

No, that's not a misprint.

So how do the Ravens stop (or at least slow) Watt Sunday in Houston?

It may mostly fall on the shoulders of right tackle Rick Wagner, a player who has a lot of familiarity with Watt.

Watt and Wagner spent two years together at the University of Wisconsin. They were both walk-ons. They were both converted tight ends. Watt ended up going to the defensive side. Wagner stayed on offense.

The two squared off in practices, and Wagner says he used to hold his own.

"I think it was a tie. He won some, I won some," Wagner said. "Hopefully I get the best of him [this time]."

Watt was already a big-shot at Wisconsin and on his way to being a first-round draft pick when he was battling Wagner in practice. But Watt remembers the young, soft-spoken blocker. Watt even remembered that Wagner was a good basketball player in high school.

"He's athletic, he can do some things, he's a big guy and he can use his body well. He's a good football player," Watt said. "[I'm] looking forward to the challenge and looking forward to the opportunity to play against him."

Wagner said his familiarity will help him "just a little bit" come Sunday.

"He's obviously gotten a lot better since college, so I don't know that it will help that much," he said. "After college, his skills took off. It's pretty incredible."

Wagner has taken off as well. In his first year as a starter, the 2013 fifth-round pick was named as a deserving player of the Pro Bowl this week by Pro Football Focus. He has graded out as one of the league's best right tackles in pass protection, giving up just two sacks.

Wagner said what makes Watt so unique and challenging is that he's a "big guy with smaller-guy speed."'

As Harbaugh said, he's "gigantic" at 6-foot-5, 289 pounds. Watt's bread and butter pass rush is the bull rush, which he counters with a strong swim move. He's relentless in his pursuit to the quarterback and strong against the run, as well.

Another thing that makes Watt so difficult to handle is that he lines up all over the defensive line. He's often over the right tackle or guard, but he moves to make it difficult for any one blocker to get into a groove.

In fact, the job will be handled by multiple players at the same time. Opponents mix up their blocking strategy and add extra players to try to stop Watt.

"You name it, I've seen it," Watt said with a laugh. "There has been just about every style in the book of trying to do it, whether it's double teams, triple teams – sometimes the rare quadruple – tight end chip, running back chip, center."

Wagner said the Ravens, who have given up the second-fewest sacks in the league this year (16) won't need a quadruple team, but he'll "definitely have some help."

The last time the Ravens matched up against Watt in 2012, they held him to two tackles and no sacks, but Watt did have two pass deflections, including one that led to an interception returned for a touchdown. In Houston, the Texans won in a landslide, 43-13.

Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak, who was on the Texans sideline that day as their head coach, now has the job of making sure Watt doesn't have a big impact this time around.

"You're going to have to pay special attention to him," Kubiak said. "I think the biggest thing is he makes disruptive plays. He's going to make plays, but they can't be strips, they can't be fumbles, they can't be those kind of things."

In week 3 of the 2013 NFL season the Baltimore Ravens host the Houston Texans at M&T Bank Stadium.

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