J.J. Watt will win some one-on-one battles this week. That's a given. But for the Ravens to neutralize Watt to the best of their ability, execution will be far more important than coaching strategy or in-game adjustments.
Watt is considered a strong candidate for the NFL's MVP award this year as he's posted 64 tackles and 16.5 sacks with two games remaining. (Ravens and Chiefs fans may have something to stay about that as Elvis Dumervil and Justin Houston have 17 sacks apiece.) However, Watt has also played the Mike Vrabel role in goal-line situations, catching three passes for three touchdowns.
Watt lines up primarily on the left side of the defensive formation, meaning he'll mostly go against former Wisconsin teammate Rick Wagner. However, he can expect to deal with more than just Wagner during the game. That stated, it will be imperative for Wagner to do his best when the situation calls for him to be one-on-one against Watt.
Here are a few ways the Ravens can slow down Watt:
1) Run away from Watt
This is simple. You don't want to run the ball at Watt. Assuming the Ravens want to establish the run, doing so to the left side of the line of scrimmage and running behind Eugene Monroe and Kelechi Osemele will be key. If those two, along with Jeremy Zuttah, are able to open up some holes, it could set up the next area that could assist the offense.
2) Setting up play-action bootlegs
Quarterback Joe Flacco has done a great job with the play fake this season, especially when Justin Forsett is able to get going. The last two weeks have been somewhat slow for Forsett, though he's dealing with a minor injury. If Forsett can get the run going, it could suck in Watt, who uses his athleticism, strength and speed to get to ball carriers. By fooling Watt inside, Flacco could then roll out all alone with time to find his receivers downfield for big gains.
3) Putting a tight end on Watt in most cases
In situations when the Ravens aren't running away from Watt and are in traditional sets, it will be key to motion Owen Daniels or Crockett Gillmore to help Wagner block him. You can make the argument that for as good as Watt is, he mostly goes against right tackles. It's the same argument Warren Sapp has made against Michael Strahan. In Baltimore, Dumervil has gone mostly against right tackles too. That's not meant to denigrate Wagner, but the reality is, in today's game, the left tackle is the superb tackle. There's a reason that position gets paid much more money. With that in mind, it will be key to begin the play with one look before motioning over help with the tight end. Fullback Kyle Juszczyk will likely be asked to help a great deal too, to possibly give the illusion of a one-on-one battle before having him help out. The Ravens could also line up a tight end next to Wagner, only to have him go out for a route with Juszczyk or a running back completing the double team.
4) Quick drops, quick release
I fully expect Flacco to not take much time throwing the ball when he's in the pocket. Having grasped the Kubiak offense, one key component is getting rid of the ball quickly. Three-step drops and a lot of underneath passing will likely be called so that Watt simply doesn't have the time to get into the backfield for sacks. Kubiak may call for the deep ball occasionally but you can bet it will be countered with a double team on the right side of the ball. I'd also expect for deep shots to come on bootlegs and play designs that get Watt moving in a direction the play isn't headed. (Or at least that would be the idea.)
All of this is easier said than done. Watt's highly regarded for a great reason — he's one of the best defenders in the NFL. But if the Ravens can limit his big-play potential this week, the offense will have a great shot at putting up points. And given Houston's situation at quarterback, combined with Baltimore's pass rush and front seven, the offense's ability to score points will be what decides the outcome in this game.