When Patriots players arrive at the team's facilities at Gillette Stadium on Wednesday, their focus will shift toward the game that awaits them in Houston. As a team, they'll delve into the game plan for the Texans and they'll take the field for the week's first practice.
For Josh McDaniels and the Patriots offense, one of the focuses of their week will be how they can neutralize defensive lineman J.J. Watt. The versatile 6-foot-5, 290-pounder leads the league in sacks with 13.5, and he's racked up 29 quarterback hits to go along with 26 quarterback hurries, according to Pro Football Focus.
He won the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year Award in 2012 and 2014 and by many accounts he's in line for his third such honor through 13 weeks of this season.
"J.J. Watt is as good of an individual player as we'll play all season," McDaniels said in a conference call with reporters on Tuesday. "He's got a great motor. He plays the game extremely hard. He's physical, he's aggressive, he's fast, he's quick. He closes to the quarterback very well in the pass rush. He chases the ball down from behind in the running game. There's really no area of the game where this guy isn't a significant factor and contributor for their defense.
"And then to top it all off, he's not always in the same spot, so we're going to have to have a lot of guys prepared and ready to handle or to be ready to block him if he happens to be aligned over them or near them."
The Texans defense as a whole, led by former Patriots defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel, has been hard to handle this season. They allow opponents to convert on just 28.7 percent of their third-down attempts, which is tops in the league.
Watt, who has worked alongside former Patriots defensive end Vince Wilfork this season, is the key. He's the kind of player who is a priority for opposing blocking schemes but still finds way to create chaos in opposing backfields in critical situations.
Slowing him down, McDaniels explained, is not a one-man job.
"That responsibility probably won't just fall on one person, so we're going to have to do a good job preparing for him," McDaniels said. "He's as disruptive of a player as we've faced all season, and we're going to have to try to limit the number of opportunities that he has to create those types of plays because when he does, they usually change the outcome of the drive, the play or potentially the game.
"He's a very unique guy. We're going to have to do a really good job of hopefully trying to limit the number of opportunities he has to make those types of plays."