Cleat Geeks

Houston, We Have A Problem

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Photo by; The Shadow League

Deshaun Watson had one of the greatest, most memorable rookie quarterback seasons in recent memory. The Houston Texans made waves when they traded up in the 2017 NFL Draft to acquire the College Football Championship winning quarterback at the number 12 overall pick. Watson was highly-touted in the NFL Draft but ended up being the third quarterback selected in the class, behind Mitchell Trubisky and Patrick Mahomes. Falling to the middle of the first round may have done him some favors. The first quarterback taken in the draft is typically expected to start Week 1 the following year. That label didn’t apply to Watson, as the Texans seemed determined to start Tom Savage and let Watson learn the pro system. It only took one abysmal half of play from Savage for the Texans to realize he wasn’t the present or the future. Watson came in during the second half of their Week 1 match-up with the Jacksonville Jaguars and their revamped defense.

We didn’t see much from him in Week 1. He looked the part of a rookie quarterback who’d been thrown to the wolves against the best cornerback duo in the NFL. He ended up finishing the game 12/23 for 102 yards, a touchdown, an interception and 4 sacks. His Week 2 match-up saw him face the Cincinnati Bengals defense in a Thursday Night Football game. On a cold, rainy night, the Watson who’d led the Clemson Tigers to victory against the almighty Alabama Crimson Tide reminded us how talented he is. With a little over a minute to go in the first half, Watson got crushed by Geno Atkins for a sack that resulted in an 11-yard loss. Two plays later, he extended a play with his feet, got some blocks ahead and took off for a 49-yard touchdown run. That was all it took. Watson ended the game 15/24 for 125 yards, with no passing touchdowns, no interceptions and 3 sacks.

There was a lot of anticipation for the Week 3 showdown with Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, whose defense had struggled thus far. In a breakout performance, Watson ended the game 22/33 for 301 yards, 2 touchdowns, 2 interceptions and 2 sacks as he went stride-for-stride with Tom Brady and the gauntlet that was the Patriots offense. The Texans and Patriots exchanged touchdowns and field goals in a shootout that the Patriots ended up winning 36-33. A missed interception late in the game and the inability to keep Brady out of the endzone, who found it 5 times, led to their demise. Even so, Watson’s stock was sky high and fans around the world were starting to take notice.

For all the great he did in Week 3 against New England, it was nothing compared to what he would put on display in Week 4 at home against division rival Tennessee. The Texans jumped out to an early 21-0 lead, the last touchdown of which came on the opening play of the second quarter. The Texans came out of halftime and Watson led them on a 14-play, 75-yard drive that resulted in a 10-yard touchdown pass to Will Fuller. The Texans ended up burying the Titans 57-14, while Watson finished the game 25/34 for 283 yards, 4 touchdowns, 1 interception and a single sack.

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Photo by; Sports Insights

The Week 5 match-up saw the Texans at home against the red-hot Kansas City Chiefs. The game was not as close as the score would indicate, 42-34, as the Texans scored a touchdown with 5 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. The Chiefs were not able to contain Watson, as he finished 16/31 for 261 yards, 5 touchdowns, 0 interceptions and 3 sacks given up. He was beginning to look the part of one of the best quarterbacks in football, even having endured a strenuous schedule. Week 6 saw them host the Cleveland Browns and Watson shined once again, finishing 17/29 for 225 yards, 3 touchdowns, 1 interception and a single sack.

A bye in Week 7 gave Watson and the Texans a much-needed break in action, preparing for a showdown in Seattle, where few quarterbacks find success. Watson came out firing, finding Will Fuller for a 59-yard touchdown on the opening drive. An Earl Thomas pick-6 a few drives later tied the game at 7. The following drive saw the Texans find the endzone again, this time off a Lamar Miller rush. Seattle came out the following drive and tied it up off a Paul Richardson touchdown reception. The teams exchanged touchdowns back and forth all game long. Watson threw two fourth quarter touchdowns late in the game to keep the Texans alive, but was intercepted on the final drive trying to tie/win the game. He finished the game 19/30 for 402 yards, 4 touchdowns, 3 interceptions and 5 sacks. He also became the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for 400+ yards, 4+ touchdowns and rush for 50+ yards in a single game.

Watson ended up throwing 16 touchdowns in the month of October, an NFL rookie record that looks to stand for a long time. Even more impressively, he did it against some of the toughest defenses in football. His rookie season has fans, especially those residing in Houston, anxious to see what his second year as a pro brings. His rookie campaign has many comparing him, prematurely, to Cam Newton, Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson. He had a phenomenal year and will certainly look to build on that, but I wouldn’t get too excited yet. I believe there are reasons to believe we won’t see the same kind of production next year from Watson. I should add that I’m a huge fan of the guy. I just don’t see him repeating that performance and I’ll tell you why.

I know it sounds absurd to say that a guy who smashed rookie, and NFL, records in only 7 games is going to have a downturn. Of the 126 completions that Watson had last season, 28 of them went for 20+ yards, which are plays that are hard to come by in the NFL. 27 of those completions went for 5 yards or less. That means almost 44% of his plays were short passes or long passes, leaving over half of his completions to intermediate routes. He’s also blessed with very talented wide receivers. DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller accounted for 14 of his 19 total passing touchdowns last year. Another concerning stat line is that 5 of those 19 touchdown passes were 4 yards or less. Although he’s proven to be a slow starter, he was able to turn it on late in games, but I’m not sure he’ll always be able to do that. 12 of his 19 touchdown passes came in the second half of his 7 games, while one even came in the final 5 seconds of a losing effort against Kansas City.

He only threw 5 of his 19 touchdowns with a lead, while the other 14 came in a tied game or down on the scoreboard. 8 of his 19 came during games in which they were losing by at least 2 possessions. The majority, 12 to be exact, of his touchdown passes also came on second down, with an average to gain of 6 yards. He also did a great job of finding open receivers, who created separation, allowing him to get rid of the ball in under 3 seconds almost every time. 9 of his 28-20+ yard plays came in the final game he played at Seattle in a shootout. Of those 28-20+ yard plays, 17 of those came on second down as well. He’s got all the physical tools and offensive weapons he needs to find the same kind of success, I just see him having a hard time replicating that. Typically speaking, quarterbacks who break out in their rookie year have a difficult time in their “sophomore slump.”

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As mentioned earlier, he’s found himself being compared to some of the best quarterbacks over the last decade, but he’s also eerily similar to Vince Young. Vince Young was very much the same quarterback in college, who seemed to find an extra gear late in big games. Much like Watson, Young was supposed to be the quarterback of the future for the franchise that drafted him, the Tennessee Titans. His inability to adapt to the NFL style cut his career short, and he found himself out of the league after just 6 years. Young did not have nearly the rookie year that Watson had, but they were both viewed as quarterbacks who “just win.”

Will Fuller and DeAndre Hopkins should also get a lot of the credit for Watson’s great year. DeAndre Hopkins has long been one of the best receivers in the game, even playing with subpar quarterbacks for much of his career. The quarterback carousel that has plagued the Texans and kept them from making deep postseason runs has not slowed down the prolific receiver much. Fuller came alive and quickly became Watson’s go-to receiver when he returned in Week 4 against the Titans. Fuller caught 7 touchdowns over the course of the next 4 games with Watson.

The future looks good for the Houston Texans. Aside from a couple of good years from Matt Schaub, they’ve never had what anyone would consider a franchise quarterback. Deshaun Watson has all the potential to be that guy and their saving grace. They’ve had a stout defense and a lot of talent for a long time. They’ve missed out on opportunities to make deep postseason runs because of their quarterback play, but that all could change with Watson. He was a nightmare match-up for most defenses and caught the rest of the NFL by surprise last year. Unfortunately for him, the Titans and Jaguars, who he will play 4 times this year, boast impressive defenses and got better during the off-season. Defensive coordinators will be much more prepared for him this year and he will find himself like a lot of others before him, failing to live up to expectations from his rookie year.

 

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