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Giants will have hands full with J.J. Watt

J.J. Watt of the Houston Texans looks on

J.J. Watt of the Houston Texans looks on during pre-game warm ups prior to playing the Oakland Raiders at O.co Coliseum on Sept. 14, 2014 in Oakland, California. Credit: Getty Images / Thearon W. Henderson

The Giants will have 99 problems Sunday. J.J. Watt will be the one.

The Texans' defensive end has become the NFL's version of a one-man wrecking unit, able to dismantle opposing offenses with his unforgiving relentlessness, score touchdowns with his size and athleticism, and even affect special-teams plays with his amazing wingspan.

"The effort, the energy, the quality of his play, you can't miss it," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said of Watt jumping out on video even to those who might not know a lick about football. "You'd be asking who that number 99 was no matter if you knew who he was or not."

Who he is is the highest-paid defensive player in the game with a new contract earlier this month in a range that used to be reserved for quarterbacks only: six years for $100 million. But he's also who he was, which might be even more impressive.

"I'm trying very hard to stay the same person," Watt said this past week. "I sign a piece of paper and your bank account grows, but it really doesn't change who I am as a person whatsoever. It only changes you if you let it, and I really don't feel like it has done anything. Like I said before, I want to go out there and prove that I am worth it."

In the season opener against the Redskins, he blocked an extra point, had five quarterback hits and added a sack and two tackles for a loss. Last week against the Raiders, he lined up as a tight end twice and caught a touchdown pass. He seems well on his way to another All-Pro season and possibly another NFL defensive player of the year title to add to the one he won in 2012, when he burst on to the NFL scene with 201/2 sacks in his second season.

Basically, he can do Watt-ever he wants to do.

"It's one thing to watch him on TV or see him on film," first-year Texans coach Bill O'Brien said. "Then to be around him every day and watch the way he works. He practices very hard. He is in here early lifting weights. He stays late watching film. He is a great leader and even better person. To see that every day, that is exactly what you are looking for in a great player."

"Everybody says much nicer things about my game than I say about my own game, that's for sure," Watt said. "When I watch the film, I mostly see all the negative things and see all of the things I can correct and see the things I can make better. I think any great player will tell you that's the case. For me, there is always something."

For the Giants, he's good enough, thank you very much. Their offensive line has some inexperienced pieces with rookie Weston Richburg at left guard and second-year player Justin Pugh at right tackle. The Texans have the ability to move Watt around on the line of scrimmage in their 3-4 scheme, and there seems little doubt that they'll be targeting those greener links.

"You have to be prepared for him to line up wherever," Pugh said.

Richburg added: "They can do whatever they want, I can't do anything about it. I have to go in expecting to play the best player. I've got to come with my best."

In his first NFL game, Richburg went against Ndamukong Suh, and he compared the two players' strength. "I have to be ready to anchor and counter their bull rushes as best I can," he said.

Watt adds another dimension with his height. At 6-5, he is known for getting those long arms in the air to bat away passes at the line of scrimmage. Since the start of the 2012 season, he's had 24 "Watt Swats," including 16 in 2012, an NFL record for a defensive lineman. How does an offensive lineman handle that?

"When they go up, you have to take him to the ground," Richburg said. "Take him down. That's the goal whenever somebody goes up like that."

Not only will the linemen be looking to see where Watt lines up on every snap, but offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo will, too.

"You obviously have to take that into consideration," he said of his play-calling. "You can minimize the impact on the game. Be smart the way you call things. Be smart the way you scheme things. You have to minimize their impact. He is a special player."

He may be the opponent, but the Giants' linemen do seem to appreciate Watt's style of play. Richburg gushed about how he plays to "the echo of the whistle" and Pugh was equally impressed by his hustle.

"I don't know his story or his upbringing," Pugh said, "but you can tell he's a hard-working guy and it shows in the way he plays the game."

Admiration aside, the Giants will be focused on stopping Watt from stopping them. And they probably won't be making the attempt in one-on-one situations very often.

"I've seen just about everything," Watt said of the schemes thrown at him in his brief NFL career. "There are all different things that guys can do, but at the end of the day, I have always said that it is more fun to have a challenge and overcome it. It makes it that much sweeter when you do get back there."

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