Despite finishing with a 2-14 record in 2013, the Houston Texans were consistently one of the better defensive teams in the league a year ago, finishing seventh in total defense with a 317.6 yards-allowed-per-game average.
Defensive end J.J. Watt was once again the Texans' leading playmaker on that side of the ball, following up his 2012 NFL Defensive Player of the Year award with another First-Team All-Pro selection last season, racking up 65 tackles, 10.5 sacks, four forced fumbles and seven passes defensed.
So with one elite pass rusher already returning on one side of the line, the Texans this offseason used their No. 1-overall pick in April's NFL Draft on a prospect many believe could be the NFL's next great sack master in Jadeveon Clowney, a two-time All-American at South Carolina.
The Watt-Clowney pass-rush duo will make their debut Sunday against the Redskins at NRG Stadium, and those along the Washington offensive line are well aware of what both players bring to the table.
"They're two great players, so you've got to be on your 'A' game at all times," Redskins right tackle Tyler Polumbus said. "Because as soon as you give them something to expose, they're going to go after it."
Watt, one of the more intense players in the league, is coming into Sunday's game with even more incentive to get to Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III. On Tuesday, the Watt and the Texans agreed to a six-year contract extension reportedly worth $100 million – the most lucrative deal ever for a defensive player in the NFL.
Watt came into the league in 2011 as the 11th-overall pick, and turned in a productive rookie season that year with 5.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and four passes defensed.
But he turned into a completely different player in 2012, becoming the first player in league history to record at least 16.5 sacks and 15 passes defensed in a single season.
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His ended his Defensive Player of the Year campaign that year with 81 tackles, 20.5 sacks, four forced fumbles and 16 passes defensed, earning the nickname "J.J. Swat" in the process.
Redskins head coach Jay Gruden said his entire offensive line has their work cut out for them on Sunday with Watt alone.
"They've all got to be aware of his power move, he has got a swim move, he has got an inside move, he has got it all and then if he doesn't rush he'll bat the ball down," Gruden said. "Coach [Chris] Foerster, we've been working techniques all throughout training camp and these guys are professional linemen, been playing it for a long time and have faced great pass rushers, but they just have got to buckle up and bear down on every snap because he is a game-changing type player and we have to know where he is at all times."
Clowney, meanwhile, comes into his rookie season with the Texans as one of the most hyped pass-rushing prospects in recent history.
In 2012, Clowney was named a unanimous All-American after breaking the South Carolina single-season record for sacks (13) and tackles for loss (23.5). After getting off to a slow start in 2013, Clowney finished with 35 tackles (10 for a loss) and three sacks and was named a first-team All-American by the American Football Coaches Association.
Clowney played in just two of his teams four preseason games in recent weeks as he dealt with an undisclosed injury, but Texans head coach Bill O'Brien expects him to make his debut on Sunday.
Redskins left tackle Trent Williams – a two-time Pro Bowler – has certainly dealt with his share of talented pass rushers in his four NFL seasons. He said he's impressed with Clowney's athleticism, but isn't going into the game trying to make a statement when matched up against the rookie.
"I just approach everybody like the player they are," Williams said this week. "(Clowney's) a great player, very athletic, so it's going to be a pretty tough task – and I'm up for it."
The Redskins have several options at their disposal to try to neutralize Watt and Clowney's pass rush abilities: screen plays, quick-hitter receiver routes or simply handing the ball off to running back Alfred Morris and letting the 2013 Pro Bowler do what he does best.
Of those options, Gruden said a strong running game is perhaps the best way to answer what Watt and Clowney bring to the table.
"They can really get after the quarterback and obviously the great neutralizer is a strong running game and we think we possess that," Gruden said. "If we get behind and it turns into a dropback pass fest, it won't be pretty. So it's very important for us to stick with the run, run the ball and do the best we can in that regard to take some pressure off our quarterback and our linemen, for that matter."