The New England Patriots spent a lot of time focusing on how to keep Houston Texans sackmaster J.J. Watt away from quarterback Tom Brady. The Patriots did a solid job of holding Watt sackless for the first time in four games during a 42-14 blowout victory.
Blocking Watt was a major challenge. New England provided left tackle Nate Solder with a lot of help from the tight end and running backs. Watt still finished with four tackles, but the Patriots did a good job on making sure Watt didn't make any big plays.
"He's a great player and I don’t think we felt like we were going to be able to just [keep] him from making any plays," Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said this week. "Hopefully you can contain him from making any impact plays, where he tips the ball up in the air and get an interception, which has happened multiple times this year, or sack the quarterback, strip-sack the quarterback."
Likewise, the Patriots hope they can prevent Smith from making game-changing plays. Smith is coming off a two-sack performance against the Miami Dolphins and has 10 sacks in his past four games.
Smith made one particularly impressive play in San Francisco's Week 14 victory over the Dolphins, bulldozing Miami rookie left tackle Jonathan Martin to sack quarterback Ryan Tannehill. The 49ers have arguably the most physical defense in the NFL, and the Patriots have to account for that.
"They can run over you," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "They can run around you and they can rush twists and games, and force the communication and the offensive line to block in different combinations, to handle very good rushers and they have those multiples as well, along with some blitzes. It's a very challenging group all the way across the board."