This week Steve Varcardipone, our KSP Houston expert, gives us his impressions of what to look for when the Bucs take on the Texans.
LH:Steve, the talk all over Tampa is how will the Bucs deal with J.J. Watt. In my opinion, he’s the best player in the league. What does Tampa Bay have to do to keep him in check this weekend?
SV:I totally agree with you and if the Bucs coaching staff can figure out how to handle him they’ll be very rich men. No one has been able to stop him since he came into the league from the University of Wisconsin. He’s just a freak. A once-in-a-generational athlete. He’s a bigger version of former Giants star Lawrence Taylor. In my eyes, he’s got great hands and he’s instinctual and ferocious plus he’s a good guy. The total package. It’s hard to hate someone like that.
LH:Watt, from a coaching standpoint, has got to be a nightmare because you don’t know where he’s going to line up. If you’re playing Suh or McCoy you know they’re going to be at tackle. Watt may line up at linebacker. How do you deal with Watt when you don’t know where he’s going to be?
SV:You are so right. Usually defensive coordinators have sleepless nights worrying about going up against some of the offenses in the NFL. I would guess that a lot of offensive coordinators and offensive lineman have a tough week leading up to the Houston games. Just thinking about having to block him for 25 or 30 snaps a game is rough. If the Bucs can come up with a way to handle him, you know everyone in the league will copy it. As of today he’s just unblockable.
LH:Almost all the time, when the quarterback comes to the line of scrimmage, he’s going to identify where the middle linebacker is located. If I’m Winston this week, I’m letting people know where #99 is lined up. What do you think?
SV:I would definitely set my protection patterns toward #99 before I move it toward middle linebacker Brian Cushing. The scary thing is that Houston fans are waiting for Jadeveon Clowney, at the other end, to become to next J.J. Watt. The Texans may end up with the greatest pair of defensive ends that we’ve seen in a while. It’s a scary thing for Jameis Winston to go into his third professional game and have to face J.J. Watt. Lovie Smith and his staff will have him as prepared as possible. I just don’t know if you can do it especially when you can’t predict where he’s going to be on every snap.
LH:Steve, you bring up a great point. It’s not a one-man-band on defense in Houston. They have a lot of talent on the defensive side, don’t they?
SV:Oh yeah. You have Watt and Clowney on the edges and Cushing in the middle. After all his knee surgeries he can’t go sideline to sideline but, if you’re going to run the football, he’s going to fill the hole. He’s an old-school middle linebacker. Joseph in the secondary takes the best receiver out of the picture. Houston will lean on that defense until Mallett gets comfortable at quarterback and Foster gets healthy at running back.
LH:The addition of defensive tackle Vince Wilfork has really made it tough for offenses to run the ball. Is he the missing piece to make that defense great?
SV:Wilfork is a middle linebacker’s dream. Lineman don’t get to them and you just can move him with one blocker. He’s that big and strong. Plus, if you double-team Watt and chip Clowney, Wilfork is still athletic enough to get to the QB. A great off-season pickup. A reliable guy who brings a Super Bowl winning mentality to the Texans. I wouldn’t want to play quarterback against that defensive line.
LH:On offense, do you have any idea if Arian Foster will play this week?
SV:He’s day-to-day but I don’t think he’s going to be ready this week. He’s at least another week or two before he gets on the field. This will make it tougher for Mallett. A good running game is the best friend of a quarterback and, right now, that doesn’t exist in Houston until Foster returns.
LH:Even though the Texans are 0-2, so are the Colts. Is there a real sense of urgency to win in Houston this week?
SV:There’s definitely a sense of urgency because they want to get that first win but it’s not panic. This is a game they expect to win. The Bucs were the worst team in the NFL last year and they are very young with a rookie quarterback who, in most cases, will make mistakes. Just need one win to get back in the race. That win help them keep the fans involved especially a home victory.
LH:With a rookie QB under center for the Bucs and an inexperienced one for the Texans, do you foresee a lot of turnovers?
SV:Yes and especially the Bucs if the Texans use a lot of zone blitz schemes. That something Winston hasn’t seen a lot. Houston will throw the kitchen sink at him so expect to see Tampa Bay try to run the football.
LH:Ok, Steve, who wins any why?
SV: I have to go with the Texans. They’re at home which will be a huge advantage. I think it will be a sloppy game but it should be entertaining. I think the Houston defense causes more havoc for Winston than the Bucs defense does for Mallett. If you move any quarterback, and I don’t care who it is, off his spot he becomes human very quick. I see Watt getting a couple of sacks that lead to a turnover or two which leads to a Texan win. Will be a close game.