How the Colts Shut Down J.J. Watt (Hint: double teams)

There may be a GIFtastic piece tomorrow, but probably not. Apparently Arizona internet is slower than a Blair White/Keyunta Dawson love child, so GIFs are slow going. 

In lieu of the GIFtastic piece this week, I took a look at how the Colts attacked J.J. Watt in their 25-3 win over the Houston Texans, who are a hot mess at this point. Watt, however, is no slouch, despite the team around him. Watt is in the midst of another all-time great season, whether traditional stats say so or not. 

Watt currently has a +100.4 grade from Pro Football Focus, which is ridiculous. For perspective, the next best 3-4 defensive end is Arizona's Calais Campbell, with a 36.7. Peyton Manning, in his record-breaking season, currently has a 36.2. Watt's Win Percentage Added this season is the best in the league for defensive linemen, and third overall for any defender, despite the fact that the Texans have fewer wins than any team in the league. 

My point is, J.J. Watt is really good. 

Yet, against the Colts, Watt was surprisingly quiet. It didn't just seem like it either, PFF gave Watt a +1.2 for the game. While that's still a good grade, it's only his second game graded below a +4.7. 

So what was it that the Colts' offensive line consisting of players like Mike McGlynn, Joe Reitz, Hugh Thornton and Xavier Nixon did to contain Watt? I took to the film to find out. 

In a nutshell, it was simply a lot of attention and a game plan geared to avoid him as much as possible, which, considering games like his 10 tackle, three sack game against the Colts last season, seems like a good idea. 

I charted each of the Colts' offensive snaps from the first half, when they put together their 20-3 lead. Here are a few results, on 32 charted snaps: 

The Colts avoided one-on-one blocks (on non-screen/quick passes) as much as possible. I counted just four times that this occurred, and the Colts really lucked out on those. When Reitz was in the game early on, the Colts let him take Watt on one-on-one, and he actually did a good job against him. 

Watt got a decent push on Reitz, but Reitz was able to turn him and give Luck a lane to step up into and make the throw. 

Anthony Castonzo got matched up with Watt twice in pass protection, once in a pure one-on-one and once with a chip from Richardson to slow Watt. Both times he did a very good job, holding his base steady and sweeping Watt wide around Luck. 

Generally though, Watt was double-teamed by McGlynn and one of the guards. The guards and McGlynn did a fantastic job of passing him off to one another on stunts, largely because Watt's teammates gave him terrible lanes to stunt through by not getting enough push, making him have to back up and go way around, which simply took too much time. 

The one time Watt got the rookie, Hugh Thornton in a one-on-one situation, Watt destroyed him, pushing him back and resulting in this: 

On the bright side, Thornton was able to take advantage of a Richardson chip earlier to get a pancake on Watt, so not all was lost for the rookie. 

But really, the strategy in the passing game revolved around quick passes, which isn't something new with Pep Hamilton's offense, but when half of your passing plays are one-step drops, it seems a little excessive (AKA THE J.J. WATT EFFECT). 

In the running game, it was a similar story, as the Colts really tried to run away from Watt in the first half, or, at the very least, use his momentum against him, like in Donald Brown's 26-yard run in the first quarter. 

On one of the few one-on-one blocks, the Colts ran away from Watt, but he still nearly busted the play. Fortunately, Brown was able to split the gap between Watt, who beat a pulling Joe Reitz on the play, and Antonio Smith. Once he ran through Smith's arm tackle, there was a big gap waiting for him to hit, and he burst through for a 26-yard gain. 

I didn't see a single run where the Colts ran at Watt and didn't double him. It's not surprising, really. Ever since Watt's trampling of the Colts last season, they've known how much attention they have to pay to him. They double and run away, doing everything they can to avoid him. And it's worked. This year, Watt's +1.5 and +1.0 are two of the three lowest grades he's gotten against the run all season. His -0.1 pass rush grade in this one was his worst game of the season. 

The Colts know how deadly he can be, and did everything they could to slow him down. Kudos to them for taking him out of the game.

Since the internet is sabatoging me and I couldn't do the GIFs I wanted to in this piece, here is something in its place: 

You're welcome.

Kyle J. Rodriguez

About Kyle J. Rodriguez

A film and numbers guru, Kyle writes about the NFL and the Indianapolis Colts for Bleacher Report, Draft Mecca and The Football Educator, and is a co-founder and associate editor of Colts Authority. Kyle also is a high school sports reporter for the MLive Media Group in Michigan, covering high school sports across the state.