In their season-opening victory over the Texans, the Chiefs didn’t stop J.J. Watt, who recorded two sacks — one after his helmet had flown off — and six tackles for loss.
But as stout as those numbers were, Watt didn’t dominate the proceedings, and for any opponent that has to face one of the game’s top defenders, that’s a triumph.
The Chiefs look to limit Watt’s damage when the team’s meet in an AFC wild-card playoff game at 3:35 p.m. Saturday.
“Every game he makes plays,” Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith said. “He finds a way to make plays. He’s disruptive, and they are as a whole.”
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Yes, the Texans are and the proof is in Watt’s sack totals, which dropped to 17 1/2 this year after surpassing 20 in two of his previous three seasons.
Double- and triple-team attention can impact a sack total, and extra bodies will be part of the Chiefs’ plan on Saturday.
“There are times, based on your protection schemes that there will be an extra guy there,” Chiefs offensive coordinator Doug Pederson said. “It’s not all the time. Most of the time he’s going on a right or left tackle.”
In the opener, won by the Chiefs 27-20, that usually was Jah Reid, who got the starting call at right tackle when Eric Fisher couldn’t go because of an ankle injury.
Since then, the offensive line has gone through several changes, with Fisher taking over at left tackle throughout the team’s 10-game winning streak and Reid staying on the right side.
But overcoming Watt is not only the responsibility of the offensive line.
“We ask our quarterback not hang onto the football, we ask our receivers to do certain things in route running,” Pederson said. “But there will be times when there are two tight ends, or a back and a tight end, or a tight end and a tackle that are going to have to block him in protection.”
The additional manpower applied to Watt creates a problem elsewhere and Houston has taken full advantage. Outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus has emerged as a pass-rushing beast with 12 sacks this season and gives the Texans one of the NFL’s top bookend tandems.
Mercelis is coming off a 3 1/2 -sack effort against the Jaguars last week, a game in which the Texans set a franchise record with eight sacks. Mercilus became the fifth player since 1982 to record at least two games with 3 1/2 sacks in a season.
How hot are Mercelis and the Texans’ defense? He was chosen AFC defensive player of the month. Watt won the honor for November.
The Texans’ defense finished third in the NFL in yards at 310.2 allowed per game, third in passing yards allowed at 210.4, fifth in sacks at 45 and third in passes defensed with 90.
Defense is the primary reason why the Texans’ closed the year with a 7-2 record and allowed an NFL-best 12.7 points and 263 yards per game in that span.
Coach Bill O’Brien points to many contributors and calling what the Texans have accomplished as “good team defense.”
But it starts with Watt.
“We just have to know where he’s at and understand why they’re doing certain things,” Pederson said. “The game plan for us become simple — try to stop J.J. Watt.
“They’ve got a lot of other good players on that defensive line as well. But he’s one that you have to know where he’s at and try to put as many hands as you can on him. You just try to hope to slow him down a little bit as best you can.”