The last time the Ravens squared off with Houston Texans star defensive end J.J. Watt, he disrupted a Joe Flacco pass with the batted football intercepted by cornerback Johnathan Joseph and swiftly returned for a touchdown.
Since the Texans' 43-13 victory over the Ravens last October, Watt has emerged as one of the most dominant players in the game as he finished last season with 81 tackles, 39 for losses, 42 quarterback hits and 20.5 sacks. He also deflected 16 passes, earning the nickname, "J.J. Swatt."
Now, the Ravens are bracing for another difficult encounter with the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year on Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium.
"J.J.'s got a high motor and is a big, strong powerful guy who's very athletic and causes a lot of disruption," Pro Bowl fullback Vonta Leach said. "He makes a lot of plays from the backside and the front side. He's a handful to block."
Watt's size, speed and relentless nature all provide tough challenges for blockers.
At 6-foot-5, 289 pounds, Watt never seems to get tired or take a snap off.
"We all know who he is, he's a great football player," said right offensive guard Marshal Yanda, who will be tasked with blocking Watt on Sunday along with right tackle Michael Oher. "He's got all the necessary tools and obviously all the moves. He swats the ball down, which is another thing to try to defend against. You try to block him to the best of your ability."
Through two games, Watt has already recorded a dozen tackles, two sacks, six quarterback hits and three pass deflections for the undefeated Texans.
"He's athletic, big and strong and knows how to play football," Oher said. "We definitely have to account for him."
A former Wisconsin standout who began his collegiate career at Central Michigan before walking on with the Badgers and earning a scholarship, Watt already has 28 sacks two games into his third NFL season.
"He's really hard to block," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "He's hard to block in the run game, when you run at him, when you run away from him. He’s hard to block when you try to pass-block him. He bats balls, he gets sacks. He’s just a very dominant-type defensive player.”
After experiencing firsthand how Watt can impact passing lanes with his wingspan and leaping ability, Flacco expects the Ravens to approach this game by making the Pro Bowl defensive lineman a top priority.
"The bottom line is you’ve got to be physical with him," Flacco said. "You’ve got to get your hands on him. I think if you do that, that’s when you’re giving yourself the best chance. If you’re not physical with him and you basically don’t play football, then obviously he’s going to have his day and have his way.
"But you’ve just got to try to be as physical as you can with him and stay under control so he doesn’t swim over you or dodge you left or right. He’s a good player. He’s going to do his thing, but we’ve just got to make sure we’re as physical as possible and limit his chances.”
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