Obviously, the Houston Texans defense is more than just J.J. Watt.
It was the third-best run defense (82.7 yards allowed per game, slightly more than New Orleans’ 80.2) and the fifth-best scoring defense (19.8 points per game) in the league last year, telltale signs of a concerted effort.
But it begins with Watt, a three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year who’s so disruptive that in 2014, he was named first-team All-Pro at defensive end, and second-team All-Pro at defensive tackle.
He has two 20-plus sacks seasons on his resume and, after playing just eight games in the ’16 and ’17 seasons due to injuries, returned to post 16 sacks, seven forced fumbles, 18 tackles for loss and 25 quarterback hits last year.
And, obviously, with the Saints set to host the Texans in the season opener in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Monday night, they know exactly what Watt is capable of. When New Orleans last saw Watt and the Texans, during the 2015 season, he finished with two sacks and five tackles in a Houston victory.
“No. 1, he’s a really athletic and talented player,” Saints Coach Sean Payton said. “He can get on an edge, he can beat you with speed. He’s got great stamina, so you know you’re going to be in for a battle all day long. All those things, whether he’s lining up inside or outside, make him challenging to play against.”
Partially, that challenge will rest with Saints right tackle Ryan Ramczyk. And Ramczyk already has accumulated some acclaim in his short career – he was named second-team All-Pro last year, his second in the NFL.
“It’s an important matchup, but there are so many other important matchups,” Payton said. “I think that if you’re noticing it a lot during the game, it’s probably going better for the rusher than the protector or the offensive lineman. Generally, you’re hoping it’s the other way around. But there’s so many other elements to these two teams and this game, but that’s certainly one and they’re both very good players.”
ON THE HOP: On the other side of the ball, there’s receiver DeAndre Hopkins and quarterback Deshaun Watson to deal with. Hopkins (115 catches for 1,572 yards and 11 touchdowns last year) and Watson (4,165 passing yards, 26 touchdowns and nine interceptions plus 551 rushing yards and five touchdowns on 99 carries last year) form one of the league’s most dangerous duos.
“I think (Hopkins has) got very strong hands in traffic,” Payton said. “He’s very confident. You see him make a lot of catches in contested areas and the quarterback has got that confidence in him. And so the timing of watching those two work is very impressive.”
He’s no less impressed with Watson.
“We see a guy like (Saints quarterback) Taysom (Hill) move around every day in practice,” Payton said. “That’s the thing that’s impressive about DeShaun. He’s able to make plays outside the pocket when a play breaks down, so you have be able to try as best you can to keep him from really hurting you in all areas of the field outside the pocket.”