J.J. Watt is doing this to an historic degree. (Getty Images)
You hear from time to time that players believe the better team lost a game -- usually, it's the players on the losing teams providing that analysis. And once in a while, you'll hear a player claim that he wasn't completely outmatched by an opponent, even though the stat sheets and game tape tell very different stories.
So it was with Tennessee Titans guard Leroy Harris, who said after Tennessee's 38-14 Sunday loss to the Houston Texans that Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, who seems to be the runaway choice for NFL Defensive Player of the Year right now, isn't as good as people think he is -- despite the fact that Watt got two sacks in the game.
"[Watt] is not anything special," Harris said, per John McClain of the Houston Chronicle. "He's just persistent at what he does. And if you use bad technique, he'll exploit. I locked him down most the game except those two plays."
Well, saying that you dealt with a guy except for the two times he took down your quarterback is quite the "Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?" rationale. Since I hadn't had time to zero in on Watt's effort against Tennessee, I took Harris' boast as incentive to turn on the NFL Game Rewind broadcast feed and take a look at every snap Watt played. Per the official gamebook, Watt was on the field for 43 of the Texans' 62 defensive snaps, because the game was out of hand in Houston's favor in the fourth quarter, and defensive coordinator Wade Phillips subbed out a lot of his starters at that point.
And from what I saw, the only time Harris could handle Watt on a consistent basis was when Watt wasn't on the field. Watt wound up with two quarterback sacks and two more quarterback hits, and many more times when he simply collapsed the pocket. There's also the fact that when Watt was in the game, he wasn't always over Harris -- he moved around a lot, and he was the problem of former Pro Bowler and possible future Hall of Famer Steve Hutchinson just as much.
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Put simply, this was a dominant effort from Watt's first play to his last -- I counted one example of Harris absolutely pancaking Watt -- of Harris actually winning the battle. It was an object lesson for those who don't know just why Watt has silly stats through the first four games -- 30 tackles, 7½ sacks, 10 tackles for loss, 10 QB hurries and five pass deflections. He is the first defensive player since Kevin Greene in 1998 to amass at least 1 1/2 sacks per game through the first four games of the season. Factor in that he's playing inside the tackles most of the time, and what Watt's doing is even more special.
On the first-quarter sack credited to defensive back Glover Quin that took Titans starting quarterback Jake Locker out of the game with a shoulder injury, Watt almost got there as well after he punked Hutchinson with a rip move and simply got around the before Hutchinson could react.
As far as winning the physical battle, there was the Watt tackle of Titans running back Chris Johnson on the first play of the second quarter. Right tackle David Stewart got his hands on Watt, who disengaged and closed on Johnson with blinding speed for a man his size.
On Watt's first sack, he simply ran around Harris -- it's possible that Harris was waiting for help from Stewart (who had to block outside linebacker Brooks Reed and got busted for holding in the play), but it's pretty clear that Harris had no response to Watt's speed.
The second sack was actually a pretty good example of the technique Watt has -- he countered Harris by rolling to his outside shoulder, gave him a swim move, and that was that.
We joke about concussion testing, and we shouldn't -- not near enough of it happens at any level of football, and that is a serious matter. But Harris' comments about Watt after the game might lead one to believe that at some point, he got hit in the head during that game. After watching the tape, the only sensible conclusion one can come to is that J.J. Watt is almost impossible to block consistently -- no matter who he's facing.
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