It’s hard to draw an accurate analogy to Houston Texans defensive end J. J. Watt without delving into the realm of the fantastic. Is he like a gorilla mixed with a cheetah? A tank on top of a fighter jet! An avalanche inside a tornado? Whatever he’s compared to, Watt’s unique blend of power, agility and explosiveness is once again terrorizing NFL offenses.
Watt has helped the Texans go from an early season laughing stock to a legitimate playoff contender by piling up 7.5 sacks in his last four games—among a boatload of other impressive statistics. Watt has remarkable physical tools, but he wouldn’t be able to get to the quarterback as often as he does without superior technique. His sack of Ryan Fitzpatrick right before halftime in the Texans’ most recent victory is a perfect example.
Watt begins the play in a wide alignment outside Jets right tackle Breno Giacomini. He knows the Jets are running a 2-minute drill and are thus likely to pass the ball, so it’s possible he lined up wide to get a better pass rush angle.
On the snap, Watt explodes upfield for two steps, looking like he’ll try to beat Giacomini around the outside edge. Giacomini sets back to try to cut him off.
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But Watt isn’t going for a vanilla outside rush. After his two hard steps downfield, he angles his third step inside Giacomini—like he’s planning to beat him through the B gap. Watt sells this move with his right foot, head and hands. Thinking Watt is now trying to rush inside through the B gap, Giacomini slows down his set so he can cut him off.
By the time Giacomini reacts to Watt’s inside step, Watt is already launching himself back outside. Notice how he sweeps his right hand to make sure Giacomini cannot get his hands on him and impede his progress. Watt’s one inside step got Giacomini out of position; his hips are now perpendicular to the line of scrimmage.
Watt now begins to perform his actual pass rush move—a “dip and rip.” In this technique, a pass rusher “dips” close to the ground to lower his center of gravity, then “rips” his inside arm to get underneath the blocker.
Watt now has the clear advantage. Giacomini’s back is facing the line of scrimmage, and Watt is in a low, powerful stance as he performs his rip. As Watt dips and rips, he bends toward the quarterback. Getting low on the dip helps him achieve a low center of gravity. In this frame, you can see Watt’s right arm hooked under Giacomini’s right arm, driving home the power of his rip.
At this point, Watt has beaten Giacomini and has a clear path to the quarterback. Short of grabbing and holding Watt from behind, Giacomini can do nothing to stop him. Notice how Watt is still very low as he breaks away from the block, putting himself in a good position to be explosive and agile.
Watt explodes out of his low position by extending his ankles, knees and hips to latch onto Fitzpatrick and record a sack for an 8-yard loss, killing any hope the Jets have of putting points on the board before halftime.
Although it only took a few seconds, the play illustrates how Watt always has a plan of attack. Yes, his physical tools are impressive—but his technique might be even better. Getting a sack against an NFL offensive lineman is like a chess game. Every single move you make can be the difference between getting stonewalled and putting the QB down. “Every sack is unbelievable because it’s so difficult to get,” Watt says.
We’ll be watching to see if Watt continues his hot streak as the Texans try to grab a playoff spot.
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