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John DeShazier: Neutralizing J.J. Watt will be tall task for Saints

Texans star defensive lineman moves around

Lately, it's Houston that is the problem.

The Texans (5-5) have won three straight entering Sunday's game against the New Orleans Saints (4-6) at NRG Stadium in Houston. They've done so behind a suffocating defense that has allowed 29 total points in the last three games and, more specifically, they've done so behind J.J. Watt, the best defensive player in the league and, arguably, the best player regardless of position.

And Watt, a defensive end, has been a lot more than problematic for opposing offenses.

This season, he leads the league in sacks (11.5) and quarterback hits (33). He could be on pace to win his second consecutive NFL Defensive Player of the Year award, which would be the third time in the last four years for him to win the award. He's the only player in league history with two 20-sack seasons (20.5 in 2012 and '14, respectively) and was a three-time All-Pro in his first four seasons.

New Orleans understands that offensive success could depend on neutralizing Watt to some degree, and that the task is complicated because Watt has the ability and latitude to line up anywhere along the defensive line.

Primarily, he does so at left defensive end, which means that his largest percentage of snaps likely will come against Saints right tackle Zach Strief.

"Good player," Strief said. "Kind of has everything you want in a defensive lineman – strong, explosive, he's got range, good variations. Obviously, he's super active. I think anybody that follows any type of football knows that he's very active and makes a lot of plays for them. So it'll be a big challenge. It'll be a group effort to try to stop him.

"He does move around. I think I'll probably see him more than anybody, percentage-wise. But they do move him all over. When you have a player like that, teams throw a lot of stuff at that guy to slow him down, so the more they can move him around into areas where you're not expecting him, (the more difficult it becomes to scheme for him). There's no doubt about it, he's an elite player. He jumps out on tape, and it's a big challenge for us."

The challenge perhaps magnifies because it's a road game and offensively, the Saints have had their struggles on the road this season.

In four of their five road games – all losses – they've scored 22 or fewer points and three times, the total has been 19 or less. The Saints scored 27 in their road victory against the Colts; the Texans allowed 27 points in each of their two home losses (in five games) this season.

But in the last two home victories, Houston yielded six and 17 points to Tennessee and the Jets. Watt had 2.5 sacks against the Titans and two against the Jets, and also had a team-leading eight tackles against New York.

"It's not like you can just sit there and say, 'Hey, we're going to run away from him,' because you don't know where he's going to be," Saints quarterback Drew Brees said. "He's all over the place. They do a good job of moving guys around and just making it unpredictable. You just have to have an awareness of where he is and what he's capable of, and know you can't hold (the football) too long.

"It is different because it is not like he is in a middle linebacker position where that guy is making a lot of calls. Maybe, he is responsible for setting a front and making checks. That doesn't seem to be J.J. Watt's role. J.J. Watt's role is to line up where he is supposed to line up on the line and wreak havoc. He does a good job of that.

"A little bit different there but (you just need to have) that awareness of knowing where he is and knowing just what he is capable of. Again, (having) a sense of urgency and knowing that the ball has to come out because he is relentless, too. He might be blocked for a short while but eventually he is going to find a way. You just want to make sure that the ball is out."

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