Scouting Report: J.J. Watt could make it a long day for Vikings' guards
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The Minnesota Vikings will attempt to continue their push for a playoff spot on Sunday, when they visit the Houston Texans. Sam Monson of ProFootballFocus.com, which breaks down tape from every NFL game, takes an inside look at the Texans in his weekly scouting report:
The Texans are a run-first team like few others in the NFL these days. They run a zone blocking scheme up front, relying on mobile linemen moving the line of scrimmage laterally, utilizing cut blocks to open up holes for their running backs to cut back into and generate yardage.
Their success in the run game is what allows them to pass using play action and striking teams deep or on crossing patterns that would ordinarily take too long to develop. If the Texans can establish the run they are very tough to stop, but if they get down early they are very uncomfortable chasing a game from the shotgun the way most teams actually prefer to operate.
On defense, they run an aggressive one-gap 3-4 scheme, but are very quick to go to their sub-packages, leaping straight to dime rather than playing much nickel like most teams.
Also, unusually, they generate the majority of their pressure not from the edge but right up the middle, though this is less a schematic quirk than a reliance on one dominant player and an underachieving set of edge rushers. They like to play a lot of man coverage and their dime look features three safeties, usually with one playing over the top of the other two.
There isn't a better defensive player in the NFL right now than J.J. Watt, who is redefining his position and may be doing things that we have never seen before.
Unfortunately for the Vikings he also lines up the majority of the time opposite the weakest link in the Vikings' offensive line, the right guard. Brandon Fusco and Geoff Schwartz both see time at that position for the Vikings.
As an interior pass-rusher, Watt is sitting at 19.5 sacks and threatening the all-time single-season sacks record.
As if that wasn't enough, he has also batted down 14 passes and has generated more total pressures than all but a few other players. He has the strength and quickness to destroy plays, whether they are run or pass plays, and simply cannot be blocked effectively or consistently one on one.
The only times Watt has been limited this season are when teams have dedicated unusual resources to stopping him, and even then he has been a factor. If they do nothing else in this game, the Vikings need to come up with a solution to slow Watt.
After struggling early in his career, left tackle Duane Brown has improved each season he has been in the league and right now might be the best at his position in the NFL. He has given up only three sacks, and 20 total pressures over 14 games, and only been flagged three times in the process. He also has the kind of strength and technique to be a major force in the run game.
However, the game that he struggled the most was his most recent and the player that caused him problems was Ron Ninkovich, an otherwise unremarkable linebacker for the Patriots. Maybe Brown just had a bad day at the office. The Texans will be hoping that's the case.
Houston's best coverage defender is Johnathan Joseph, who is also notoriously injury prone. Last week he returned to the lineup after dealing with hamstring problems that have impacted him this season. Joseph remains well short of his best at this point.
This season he has given up 611 receiving yards from 49 catches on the 84 times he has been targeted. That isn't a disastrous performance, but is a noticeable shift from his best when he was locking down receivers.
Joseph has been allowing receptions, but is still making sure he is over the top to limit big plays, and he has given up one touchdown all season. The Vikings ply their trade underneath, so should find some room to operate in against him.
• As a 3-4 defensive end J.J. Watt has 67 total pressures, a figure only three players can better this year.
• Houston averages 3.9 yards per run this season running to the left, and a far healthier 4.7 when running right.
• Matt Schaub's passer rating using play action is 113.1, up from only 87.7 when he doesn't use play action.
• Schaub goes deep on only 9.9 percent of his passes, 30th in the NFL, with only Robert Griffin III and Christian Ponder attacking deep less often.
• Outside linebackers Brooks Reed, Connor Barwin and Whitney Mercilus have totaled just 80 pressures this season, only 13 more than Watt on his own.