FOXBOROUGH — J.J. Watt is everywhere.
It's pretty hard to watch TV — sports programming or otherwise — and not see the ubiquitous 6-foot-5-inch, 289-pound Texans behemoth consuming your space. And now you know how his opponents feel, whether they're watching him on film or live in person.
When he's not pitching everything from pizza to trucks on the tube, he's pitching everything from offensive tackles to quarterbacks to the turf.
The NFL's reigning Defensive Player of the Year — and the only man to win that award unanimously — is on the fast track to defending that honor as he spearheads a Houston team making a late push toward a playoff spot, something that seemed out of reach after a 2-5 start.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick pointed to Watt's dominance and versatility as major reasons for the Texans' turnaround — and even mentioned him in the same breath as one of the NFL's all-time greatest defenders.
"There have been very few players I would put in the same conversation with [Lawrence] Taylor, but I would put Watt there,'' he told the Houston media.
Belichick said teams put an awful lot of thought into how to neutralize Watt, but a successful formula hasn't been concocted yet.
"He's pretty special,'' said Belichick. "He does a lot of things really well, and everybody game plans for him every game. He gets a lot of double teams, the line sliding to his side, teams trying to run away from him, teams trying to handle him, but he does a good job with all of it.
"In spite of all the attention he gets and the schemes that are put in week to week to try to handle him, he still has a tremendous amount of production.''
The production is obvious. Watt leads the NFL in sacks (13.5), tackles for losses (24), and quarterback hits (42).
Belichick said teams used to try the same things to try to contain Taylor, the former Giants star linebacker widely regarding as the league's ultimate defender.
"He's done a really good job of dealing with a lot of extra attention," said Belichick, "whatever it happens to be — line slide, double team, tight end staying in — similar to some of the things that we saw from teams dealing with Taylor at New York. He's got that kind of disruptiveness.''
He'll be out to disrupt Tom Brady and the Patriots offense Sunday night, and keeping the quarterback upright will be no easy task for New England. Because Watt lines up in so many different spots, it often seems like there's more than one of him.
"They move him around a little bit, so he's not always in the same place, although he plays a lot on the offensive right, the defensive left, but he shows up in other spots as well," said Belichick. "[Defensive coordinator] Romeo [Crennel] and [defensive line coach Paul] Pasqualoni have done a good job of moving things around enough to keep the offense off-balance.''
Watt possesses an incredibly explosive first step and plays with great balance and leverage. He has the strength to rock offensive linemen and can shed them quickly. He reads, reacts, and gets to the ball in a flash.
Although Patriots left tackle Sebastian Vollmer will be charged with protecting Brady's blind side, he knows it will take a team effort to keep Watt out of New England's backfield.
"He's got a great combination of size, strength, speed, and talent,'' said Vollmer. "Everyone's got to play well. Can't really exactly know where he's going to be. I know I've got to block him at some point and I've got to do a good job.''
Sebastian Vollmer discusses Texans J.J. Watt
Patriots offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer talks about Texans defensive end J.J. Watt.
Because Watt gets so much attention for his pass rushing, his excellent run defense sometimes gets overlooked. But make no mistake, he is a true force on all three downs.
As awe-inspiring as Watt's antics can be to opponents, his teammates and coaches are just as impressed. Former Patriot Vince Wilfork, who now gets to play with Watt, recalled how his ex-mates used to marvel when watching Watt's highlights.
"I always tell myself how lucky I am to be playing with a guy like that,'' said Wilfork. "When I was in New England, we would always watch him on film, and we always used to say, 'Jaaayyy Jaaayyy Waaatt!' And we would laugh.
"And here I am a year later, or two years later, and I actually have a chance to have a front-row seat every day to watch him, be in the same meeting room and talk to him . . . just to pick his brain, what makes him tick.
"It's a blessing for me to be in the same locker room with him. I cherish that every day. It's special.''
Patriots fans will get an up-close look at just how special Watt can be Sunday night. During the game — and during his many commercial appearances. After all, he's everywhere.
Jim McBride can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org