EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – How dominant is Houston Texans defensive lineman J.J. Watt?
Since his rookie season in 2011, he leads the NFL in tackles for loss (138), quarterback hits (221), fumble recoveries (13) and multi-sack games (21) and is second with 76.0 sacks – despite missing 24 games the previous two seasons due to injuries.
But Watt appears to be back to peak form. In the Texans' loss last week in Tennessee, he had six tackles (four solo), including two for losses, and forced a fumble. Now it's the Giants who must contend with the rejuvenated Watt when they visit the Texans in Houston on Sunday.
Giants coach Pat Shurmur was asked what makes the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2012, 2014 and 2015 so special.
"You got all the critical factors you're looking for in a defensive player," Shurmur said. "He's long, he's quick, he's explosive and then at times, he's a little unpredictable. You can see at times where he'll just beat a guy inside, which I think has made him a really good player. And then I think he's back to playing at a high level."
"He is still the guy and you have to know where he is, we have to know where he is at all times," offensive coordinator Mike Shula said. "He's productive at all the spots, too. It's not like he's just outstanding on our right side outside. He can play outside on our left and inside or play over the center. I mean he's just so, not only talented and explosive, but his awareness is off the charts. Then you add in (Jadeveon) Clowney on the other side or when they're together, so that's why they're really good on defense."
Watt has faced the Giants just once previously. On Sept. 21, 2014, he had seven tackles (five solo), a pass defensed, and an eight-yard sack of Eli Manning in a 30-17 Giants victory.
"Obviously, you got to take care of him," Manning said. "You got to know where he is, and it's not just him. They got a couple of studs on that defensive line who do a good job getting to the quarterback, getting sacks. You've got to plan different ways to attack it, whether you're doubling or getting the ball out fast, just have a lot of different things, different looks for him, try to slow him down. Again, he's a good player. He's going to make some plays, but hopefully it's not the ones that can change the game too much."
Watt will line up at either end, and is equally dominant when he moves inside.
"We sort of know where he's going to line up depending on how we line up," Shurmur said. "But they do move him around at times, so you really don't try to over-analyze that. Whoever's got to block him has to block him. I think at some point, there's four guys rushing and we got five guys blocking, we got to get him blocked."
*Late yesterday, the Giants were awarded wide receiver/return specialist Stacy Coley off waivers from Minnesota, where he played four games for Shurmur last season. Coley, who played in the first two games this year for the Vikings, does not have an NFL reception.
"He's got good speed, contributes on special teams and he's caught punts before, kicks," Shurmur said. "He has that ability and he was a young, developmental receiver when I had him a year ago. But he's a good player and we're fortunate he was available. We just felt like it would be a good guy to add to the mix."
*Linebacker Olivier Vernon (ankle) and cornerback Eli Apple (groin) again missed practice. Linebacker Connor Barwin, who didn't practice yesterday, returned to work on a limited basis. Tight end Evan Engram (ankle) was again limited.