When two desperate 2-3 NFL teams get together in a critical must-win Week 6 contest for their playoff lives, sometimes it comes down to one critical matchup to decide the game’s outcome. When the St. Louis Rams travel to Reliant Stadium to battle the Houston Texans on Sunday, that matchup may very well be the Rams offensive line against the next standard bearer for defensive lineman in the league, J.J. Watt.
Playing in the rough and tumble NFC West, obviously the Rams have been exposed to some physical creatures during their travels. Watt is a breed unlike many others, however, as his 2012 stat line of 20.5 sacks, 81 tackles, four forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and 16 batted passes clearly suggested. That enormous pass deflection number should be a serious concern for quarterback Sam Bradford who has a propensity for getting throws tipped at the line of scrimmage and ending up in the hands of guys in the other colored jersey with eight batted passes already this season.
Just like any team facing Watt, there’s no doubt the gameplan will incorporate some elements to try and neutralize his effects on the contest. Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer even intimated as much when he told ESPN:
“If he’s not the best defensive lineman in the league, he’s certainly in the top two or three. Just watching him on film, he’s everything you hear about.”
Clearly someone of that status cannot be ignored when drawing up the blueprint for a victory on Sunday. While the offensive line will be at the forefront of the effort to keep Watt at bay, play-calling will also be instrumental in trying to minimize his potential impact. Running the football would have to be a big part of that potential outline as it prevents the big man from pinning his ears back and getting after the quarterback full force. With rookie Zac Stacy getting the start again with his physical running style, perhaps balance is the top priority for the Rams in Week 6.
Even though play-calling will undoubtedly be a factor, the players know that the offensive line will bear the biggest responsibility this weekend. Left tackle Jake Long discussed his preparations coming in saying:
“You have just got to trust your technique. You’ve got to go out and match his intensity, play through the echo of the whistle because that’s what he’ll do. But mainly just play with technique, be confident in what you do and go out and let it all go.”
Long is a big man in his own right, but even his 6-foot-7 322-pound frame is only a physical equivalent to Watt at 6-foot-5 289-pounds. While on paper it may appear Long has the upper hand, it is Watt’s 82.5-inch wingspan that gives him the advantage on pretty much every lineman he faces. There’s no doubt matchups like this one are why the Rams spent beaucoup bucks on Long in the offseason to man their left tackle position.
The idea of completely shutting Watt down is somewhat preposterous, but what the Rams have to do is scheme and execute their assignments properly in order to minimize the effect he has on the game. Obviously this is easier said than done, but it’s clear a lot is riding on this game for both squads. The loser of this game will likely kiss the postseason goodbye this year, and the Rams will have to keep Watt at bay in order to keep the playoff dream alive for at least another week.