Colts brace themselves for J.J. Watt

Houston defensive end has hounded Colts passer Andrew Luck in the past and will look to do so again Thursday night.

If Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck wakes up in a cold sweat after seeing visions a monster wearing No. 99 stalking him through his dreams, it would make sense.

J.J. Watt is easily the most visible defensive player in the NFL, its best for the month of September. And now the Houston Texans’ nightmare of a defensive end is coming for Luck on Thursday night at NRG Stadium.

Watt has sacked Luck four times in four games. Colts head coach Chuck Pagano doesn’t need to be reminded, which would explain why he could be losing sleep, too.

“I don’t care who you’ve got in there,” Pagano said Tuesday. “We could have 22 in there, 12 offensive linemen and I’d be scared; if they let us play with that many, I’m saying, and they’re not going to.

“It doesn’t matter who you have in there, that guy is as good as they get.”

Someone somewhere might be inclined to ask, “Come on, he’s only one man. How good can he be?”

Consider this one Watt statistic from a Week 4 home win over Buffalo: He had a career-high nine quarterback hits. Yeah, nine. In one game.

The fourth-year pro has don’t just about everything in five games. Despite drawing constant double teams, he has two sacks, four tackles for loss, 16 quarterback hurries, one interception returned 79 yards for a touchdown, one blocked extra point, three passes defended and one fumble recovery. Oh, and he’s been plugged in on offense and has a TD reception.

“You just turn the tape on,” Pagano said, “he’s a nightmare and you’ve got to plan for him. Sometimes, that plan doesn’t work.”

The Colts are also likely entering this matchup of 3-2 teams sitting atop the AFC South Division with a makeshift offensive line. Both guards could sit this one out. Rookie Jack Mewhort didn’t play last week and hasn’t practiced. Second-year Hugh Thornton has a back injury and didn’t practice Tuesday. That has Pagano mentioning Joe Reitz and backup center A.Q. Shipley as options.

While Watt lines up at end, he’s moved around before against the Colts. And you can bet the Texans will call some stunts or twists to try to isolate him on whomever is blocking inside.

“You do have to keep an eye on where 99 is,” Luck said, in the understatement of the week. “He’s a stud, one of the best, if not the best, defensive players in the league.”

Asked if there needs to be an extra emphasis on solely dealing with Watt, Luck stated the obvious, “I don’t think we have to make that point. Guys realize that.”

Watt was asked on a conference call how many times he expected the Colts to try to block him one-on-one.

“We’ll see,” he said. “I don’t know. Obviously you hope to get one every play, but you can’t so we’ll see. You never really know.”

Here’s the answer: Not many, if any. Even when Watt goes straight at offensive left tackle Anthony Castonzo, expect the Colts to have a tight end or running back chip him. It’s what former Colts pass rusher Dwight Freeney came to expect every game after he started dominating opponents. NFL teams set their minds to making sure one player does not beat them.

But, as Pagano said, that plan doesn’t always work.

“It’s just something that I’m used to seeing and it’s something that I’ll continue to see, I’m sure,” Watt said of exotic blocking schemes. “It’s just one of those things where is it a little bit more difficult? Maybe, but I think that’s part of what makes the game fun, is the challenge. Every single week there’s a challenge of some sort, something new that I might see or a couple extra guys that I might see. That’s fine. That’s part of the challenge.”

Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.

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