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Josh McDaniels preparing for J.J. Watt ‘no matter where they line him up’

12.03.12 at 10:07 pm ET
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J.J. Watt races for a touchdown against the Bengals in the playoffs last season. (AP)

FOXBORO — The Patriots offense will have their hands full next Monday night with one of the best defensive lines in football, led by one of the best defensive linemen in the game.

J.J. Watt is second in the NFL with 15.5 sacks, two behind San Francisco’s Aldon Smith. Watt also has 59 tackles in 12 games for the 11-1 Texans this season. He is not only in the NFL defensive player of the year conversation, there are those who think the most dominant player on one of the best teams in the league season is worthy of NFL MVP consideration.

How good is he? So good that the Texans didn’t think twice about letting Mario Williams shuffle off to Buffalo after last season as a free agent.

Watt last season made the single-biggest play in the team’s first-ever playoff game, a 31-10 win over the Bengals, when he intercepted Andy Dalton on a pass block at the line of scrimmage just before halftime and raced in for a touchdown.

How will offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and the Patriots prepare for the most devastating defensive end they’ve seen this season?

“With J.J. Watt, obviously he’s having a great year and obviously he’s a great player no matter where they line him up,” McDaniels said Monday. “The fact that they move him a little bit inside and outside, we’re going to have to have more than one guy ready to handle him and block him. It won’t just fall to the guard or to the tackle. It could be anybody at times, based on the way they play him. We have to do a great job of trying to simulate his effort, his motor and some of the things he does to disrupt people in the running game and the passing game and have to make sure we’re very mindful of taking care of the football and not letting him get his hands on balls, because he’s certainly created a lot of disruptive opportunities for them defensively by tipping the ball and batting the ball up in the air. [I’ve] got a ton of respect for him, their entire defense, certainly Coach Phillips and their defensive staff. We’re really looking forward to the challenge this week.”

Bill Belichick is known for taking away one offensive weapon from the opposition and making them win with secondary options. That mission changes somewhat this week as McDaniels will have the sizable task this week of meeting that objective, with an extra day to help his cause.

“Coach [Wade] Phillips does a great job and any defense that he’s coached has always been a big challenge for us or any other team and this one certainly is no different,” McDaniels said. “This is an aggressive team that plays physical, tough defense. I think they play fast. They play very hard up front and do a lot of really good things with their front three or four depending on whether they’re in base or in a sub-mode. Obviously they do a great job in terms of trying to take care of the running game.

“I think they’re second in the NFL. They’re top five in fewest points allowed. They’re certainly a good situational football team. Third down, red zone defense is excellent. And they’ve created turnovers and put a lot of pressure on the quarterback, so I don’t think it’s a stretch to say this is going to be a big challenge for us. They have talented players at every level of their defense and they’re obviously very well coached, so we’re going to have to do a great job in preparing for them this week.”

Here is the rest of McDaniels’ Q and A with reporters on Monday’s conference call:

Q: What has turned in the right direction for Daniel Fells to contribute to this team now after being a healthy scratch earlier in the year?

JM: Well, there’s always a lot of consideration that we put into how we’ll play the game, and along with making those determinations, you have to consider how you would play the game if you lost a specific player and it maybe bumped you out of a package or two. For some of those games, I think if we would have lost Rob, it would have probably been more of a three-receiver game or some other combination of personnel groupings. We had a few games there where [Visanthe] Shiancoe was kind of in the mix in terms of playing a role there to help us in his role and back up certainly positions there as well. I think it’s just really a matter of a decision on how to play the game or how to handle the game if you incur an injury at a certain position. I think he’s done a nice job with his opportunities. He’s certainly played a lot of snaps the last two weeks. Like all of us yesterday, we could do things better. We could play better, coach better, and I think that would apply to all of our players and coaches. We’re going to try to do a better job going forward. But he has been ready to go and obviously he’s helped us significantly the last two weeks.

Q: This may be way too broad of a question, but is it easier to call a passing play for a slot receiver or a tight end than maybe it might be to draw up a play to get the ball to an outside receiver because he’s farther way from the line of scrimmage? Or am I just throwing stuff against the wall on that one?

JM: There might be some things on the wall there, but really, the passing game comes down to execution and reading the coverage and trying to find the softest spots in the defense. That’s really – I don’t want to try to oversimplify that, but really and truly, that’s what it comes down to. If they give us an opportunity to use the people in the middle of the field, then you have to be able to throw the ball in there and take advantage of it. If they force the ball to the perimeter, you need to be able to take advantage of those too. Sometimes I think also, based on the patterns that you’re running, somebody is usually running a shorter route and somebody is usually running a deeper route. Sometimes you read those things and if the shorter route is open, you throw him the ball. If the shorter route is covered, then you wait and throw the deeper route. Sometimes I really think it has to do with the progression that the quarterback goes through or the coverage that the defense plays. Hopefully, most of the time our quarterback does a good job reading that out and getting the ball to the softest part of the defense.

Q: In games like [Sunday] where the offense doesn’t put up the numbers that we’re accustomed to, how encouraging is it when the defense does step up and take some of the pressure off the offense in a sense?

JM: Every win or every game we go into certainly is a team, complementary game. Yesterday was a great example of a team win. We’ve had a lot of those this year; we certainly didn’t play perfectly in any game this year and are trying to do the best we can. And the defense really has made a lot of plays for us all season long: set us up with great field position with turnovers, given us opportunities to get the ball in plus-field position a number of times this year, and/or scored themselves. Same thing goes for the kicking game. I think we go into every week talking about playing a complementary game and we need to try to do the right things to help our defense and special teams out, and they always try to do the same things for us. I think yesterday was a good example of a team win. I’m very proud to be a part of that and to have a chance to win the [AFC] East and go undefeated so far in our division. That’s a great thing and our team really earned it yesterday.

Read More: Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals, houston texans, j.j. watt
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