How J.J. Watt dominates as a pass-rusher

Robert Couch, in conjunction with the ProCoach.Network, breaks down the skill-set that makes J.J. Watt a quarterback's nightmare.

| 2 years ago
(AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

(AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

How J.J. Watt dominates as a pass-rusher

ProCoach.Network is a group of Coaches experienced in the NFL who provide expert analysis and training for players and coaches of all levels. This article was written by Robert Couch in conjunction with the ProCoach.Network.

J.J. Watt, according to Pro Football Focus grading, is the best player in the NFL, and truly without peer as a 3-4 DE. His PFF grade of +107.5 in 2014 was roughly three times greater than Sheldon Richardson, who ranked second at +39.9. But in pass-rush production, His separation at the position as a pass-rusher was even greater, as Watt grades +91.9 compared to Richardson’s second place grade of +24.7. He was his usual self in the Texans’ Week 1 loss to the Chiefs, recording an outstanding game grade of +8.3.

Let’s take a look at how he produces such unbelievable grades — our coaches at ProCoach.Network analyzed Watt’s most effective pass rush moves and why they are so effective.

After watching and categorizing each of Watt’s positively graded pass rushes from 2014, we’ve made the following general conclusions:

Watt’s extraordinary size, strength, quickness and athleticism is combined with flawless technique and an exceptional motor that never quits.

Watt is a smart rusher with great eyes. He is able to adjust his rush spontaneously based on the relationship of the blocker to the quarterback. His ability to react is a testament to his strong football IQ.

Watt has an uncanny ability to feel a blocker’s balance and react effectively to defeat him. He is able to react to perceived blocker balance while going nearly full speed.

His pass rushes come in many forms, so we broke down the types of moves that Watt uses into five categories: outside, inside, bull, twist and miscellaneous. Here’s how he’s effective at each:


Watt likes to use an outside move on a guard or tackle when he feels the blocker is too far inside of him in relation to the quarterback. If he feels a lot of space from the blocker, then he likes a circle rip move.


If Watt feels the blocker is closer to him, he likes an outside swat-and-swim move.

When Watt feels the blocker is too wide in relation to the QB, he will counter to the inside. He does this with excellent speed, strength and leverage. Watt is so good at feeling the blocker’s balance that he is able to adjust his rush mid-move. On his inside counter move, if Watt feels the blocker has too much forward lean, then he likes to use a knockdown swim. Watt uses both a single and double arm swim move effectively.


If he feels he has beaten the blocker or if the blocker’s balance is too far back, then he likes a rip or a knockdown rip move.

On both of these moves he is able to free himself because of his “knockdown”. A knockdown is when he swats the blocker’s hand down to prevent the blocker from punching him effectively.

Bull Rush

When Watt rushes and he feels the blocker is in perfect positon relative to the QB, he responds with a bull rush, knowing that he will not have an easy outside or inside path to the QB. He likes to use both a single arm and double arm bull technique.

Watt, however, like most great rushers, is an edge rusher. Most of his productive rushes come from rushing either inside or outside the blocker (87 times) rather than bull rushing down the middle of the blocker (nine times).



Watt gets quite a few of his pressures off of line twists. When he is the drive man, he is excellent at penetrating the gap and then using the adjacent blocker as a trampoline to spring himself towards the QB. He performs this technique clinically perfect over and over again.


When he is the looper, he uses his great speed to come free on the twist. It’s really remarkable how he is able to time his footwork so that he doesn’t take a single false or delayed step. His timing is excellent.


Finally, a certain number of situations were grouped together to create a miscellaneous category. From those miscellaneous plays, the following observations were made:

– When Watt hesitates while he’s rushing, he’s preparing to jump and block the pass.

– Watt is great at pressuring the QB if a lineman releases him too soon before going out on a screen play.

– Watt is effective using a side step when backs attempt to cut him.

– Watt uses a spin move to the inside effectively when he feels a back chip him from the outside.

Watt gets pressures when the play appears over because of his relentless effort and finish.


Our study of Watt was fascinating — he is the perfect storm resulting from perfect conditions.   Rare physical talent, combined with flawless technique and relentless effort define why he is one of the greatest players to ever play the game.

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