In this article I relive and break down Deshaun Watson's first four games as a Houston Texan. We get to see the highlights and lowlights of a rookie Quarterback in the NFL. Deshaun has come a long way from when he first entered the league. You should notice as a rookie, his fundamentals, mechanics, and decision making are not as elite as they are now, in 2020. This series will look to analyze and document the immense growth Deshaun has made, and how we should expect him to continue to improve. Enjoy.
Watson Watch - Volume 1: 2017 Weeks 1-4
Week 1: Vs. Jacksonville Jaguars
It's crazy to remember that Deshaun Watson wasn't crowned the Week 1 starter of the Houston Texans. That honor, went to veteran QB Tom Savage. BOB understandably wanted to let Watson take his time, learn the offense, and get comfortable before throwing him to the fire. However, half way through their first game against the Jaguars, that plan got thrown out the window.
Trailing 19-0 after half, Tom Savage saw his last day as a starting QB, and Deshaun was up to his first test: a dangerous Jaguars defense. Deshaun wasn't instantly an MVP QB, but he did fairly well against an elite defense that would carry the Jaguars to the AFC Championship Game that year. Deshaun finished the game: 12/23 for 102 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT. Not amazing, but certainly not awful either. While the stats may not have shocked anyone, it was the start of a new era, and that provided Texans fans around the world with one thing, hope.
Let's look at the film and see what went right or wrong for Deshaun. On his first drive, after a couple handoffs to Lamar Miller, it was 3rd down and time for Deshaun's first ever throw in the NFL. The Texans go 5 wide, spreading the field, making things easier for Deshaun to read. He instantly looks to his right, focusing on DeAndre Hopkins, who is running a slant against All-Pro CB Jalen Ramsey. Nuk wins his matchup, and Deshaun fires the ball right into his chest for the first down.
It was just one throw, on a relatively simple concept, but it was a start. You could just tell it was someone different leading the Houston Texans. It wasn't Case Keenum, Brian Hoyer or Brock Osweiler. It was Deshaun Watson, and it was HIS team. That throw, on third down, extended the drive and he kept his rhythm going, completing 5 more passes on that possession, which ended in his first ever TD.
Down on the 4 yard line, everyone in the stadium is expecting a run. Deshaun fakes the handoff to Miller, and looks to Hopkins. Nuk expertly sells the fake by nonchalantly jogging on his release. Once he lulls Ramsey to sleep, he bursts by him and Deshaun tosses up the ball, landing perfectly in Nuk's hands. The ball placement was great, getting it over the LBs, but also giving Nuk enough space to get his feet in bounds. What a way to get your first career TD.
The crowd went wild, the offense celebrated gleefully and the team was rejuvenated. There was a new found energy that was thrust into the team and fans alike. This first Watson touchdown was a glimpse into how this franchise was saved from QB purgatory. For me, excitement and hope filled my thoughts and the sky was the limit.
As mentioned before, the Jags defense was no simple task. They rebounded and were determined to rain on our parade. Deshaun didn't just continue to steamroll them. There were struggles, he wasn't perfect, no one is. He made some mistakes, some worse than others, but his interception was a truly poor decision.
Pressure is a QB's worst nightmare. It messes up their rhythm, mechanics and decision making. Unfortunately, Deshaun is no exception to this rule, especially as a rookie. Duwuane Smoot (#94) embarrasses RT Breno Giacommini (#68) and gets right into Watson's face. This forces him to make a throw earlier than he wants to, and one that just isn't there. With nothing really open, he forces the ball up the seam to TE Stephen Anderson (#89), but doesn't seem to see Safety Tashaun Gipson (#39) standing in his way. Gipson doesn't have to do much here but take three steps forward and catch the interception.
It was an awful decision, a lapse in judgement, a rookie mistake. But these things happen, we couldn't have expected for Deshaun to be perfect right from the jump, and not endure any speed bumps. You have to commend him for chasing down Gipson, fighting through a block, and making the tackle, saving a TD.
Overall, this Jaguars game was a great example to show the ups and downs of Deshaun Watson. He moved the chains, scored a touchdown, threw a pick, but most of all, gave everyone hope.
Week 2: Vs. Cincinnati Bengals
After a promising first game against the Jaguars, the world was ready for Deshaun Watson's emergence. On a short week, Thursday night against the Bengals, we are yet again teased with his brilliance.
I'll get to the play that I'm sure everyone is thinking about, but it wasn't all sunshine and rainbows early on. Deshaun struggled to make his reads and get the offense into a rhythm. He finished the game a pedestrian 15/24 for 125 yards and one rushing TD, albeit no INTs.
Similarly to his first ever throw, the Texans go 5 wide, spread the defense, and Watson looks for Hopkins on a quick slant. While the Jaguars were in man coverage, and Nuk won his matchup, the Bengals are in zone, and trick Watson here. The nickel CB (#21) looks like he is covering Tyler Ervin (#34) in the slot. But he's actually sitting in a short hook zone. He reads Deshaun's eyes and jumps the slant route, just barely dropping a potential pick-6.
This play illustrates a big problem. As you can see, Watson is staring down Hopkins the entire play. He did this often, and as great as Hopkins is, focusing so heavily on one WR can be a real detriment. It makes an offense predictable and easy to read. The CB knew where this ball was likely to go. If you watch how he stands, he has outside leverage and is a couple steps closer to Nuk. He knows Deshaun, as a rookie, is going to lean on his All-Pro WR, and he makes him pay. In 2017, Deshaun needed to focus less on Hopkins, and spread the ball around more. In 2020, the offense is designed for exactly that, and I believe we will thrive.
This next play was one of the first glimpses we got to see of Deshaun's magic in the pocket. As we have seen for a couple years now, Deshaun is arguably the best QB in the NFL in avoiding sacks. He has an innate sense of when and where pressure is coming from. It's truly amazing to watch.
On this play, Deshaun takes the snap, hits the top of his drop, and nothing is open. He continues scanning the field, but the pocket gets collapsed, and there is pressure from the right as well. He's able to dip his head and spin out of the grasp of a Bengal defender. While a sack looked like a certainty, Deshaun erased any concern of that, and rolls out to his right. He tosses up a throw that I initially didn't think was wise. It still probably wasn't great, but he tries to find Tyler Ervin, who had a slight opening down the sideline, but just barely overthrows him. This is Deshaun Watson's game, he will take risks. Some will end up in sacks or INTs, but most will end up in big highlight plays. You have to accept the bad that comes with the legendary.
This next play is a great example of some of that "bad". Deshaun is always looking to make a play, when he's in the pocket his survival instincts take over, and he refuses to go down. It can be remarkable, like standing strong through two bruising hits and throwing a game clinching pass against the Bills. Or, it can be deflating, looking like a chicken running around with his head cut off.
Deshaun has happy feet here, and he looks to make something out of nothing, at an unnecessary time. As he hits the top of his drop, the pocket isn't awful, there's room to stand tall and read the defense. But he gets anxious, likely from the beating that this atrocious offensive line was allowing. He hops around, looking for the best exit plan, but he's stuck. His head is on a swivel, but he's not looking downfield, he's looking for the defenders surrounding him. He looks panicky here, rolls out to his left, pump fakes, but is brought down.
Standing in the pocket and continuing to make your reads is really tough. Tom Brady does it so well, and that's what helps him be the GOAT. He's not as mobile as Watson, he doesn't have the luxury of his elusiveness. But his pocket presence is top notch. Deshaun can get there, but he just isn't at this point.
We saw the bad, but lets revel in the legendary for a moment. This next play was truly unforgettable. It's one of those plays where you shake your head, blink your eyes and ask "Did he really just do that?" One play after getting completely smoked by Geno Atkins, Deshaun seeks revenge.
He steps up in the pocket to avoid the pressure, and then has to burst by two Bengal defenders, closing in on him from either side. He squeezes through a tackle and is off to the races. He could've slid after the first 7 yards, and with a defender in his way, but he isn't satisfied with just 7 yards. He bends the run outside and follows his blocks by Jay Prosch (#45) and Jaelen Strong (#11). As Deshaun scampers into the end zone it seems like the impossible has happened. A 49 yard TD run. It was magnificent, remarkable, astounding. Words that are still not good enough to describe that magical play.
The Bengals game was yet another tease of Watson's talent. We saw the wheels he has and how he can take off for a 50 yard TD at any point. But we also saw inconsistent reads, staring down Hopkins, and poor pocket presence. While it wasn't a perfect game, Watson led the Texans to his first career W: 13-9 over the Bengals. Hope had been restored, and we were seeing the benefits of a promising young QB, come to fruition.
Week 3: Vs. New England Patriots
After two up and down games, Watson headed to Foxborough to take on the GOAT, and he went punch for punch. Watson finished 22/33 for 301 yards, 2 TDs and 2 INTs. He had some ridiculous highlights and looked like he was on a mission to dethrone Tom Brady.
His first touchdown showcased eye manipulation, arm strength and ball placement, it was beautiful. As the ball is snapped he looks Hopkins' way, but he's covered. He learns from his mistake and doesn't just lock in on Nuk the entire time. He moves through his progressions and finds Bruce Ellington running a vertical route from the slot. Because he looked at Nuk first, this moved the safety to the left, and away from the center of the field where Ellington is headed. Watson fires a laser down the middle of the field and he places the ball to the inside of Ellington, away from the safety and CB near him. This was such a perfect throw and was a sign of more to come.
Watson was on fire from that point on, and it seemed like he could do no wrong. On this play he looks to scramble out to his right, but is cut off by a defender. He backs up and side shuffles to his left, avoiding pressure. Instead of scrambling, he keeps his eyes downfield, waiting for anyone to come open. Things look grim as a defender comes barreling towards him. Watson continues to back up, and at the last second sees Ryan Griffen wide open, but on the complete opposite side of the field. He loads up and chucks the ball across his body, miraculously finding Griffen, who brings down the huge gain. This throw shouldn't have worked. This is what I try in Madden and still fail to pull off. In all honesty, it's a bad decision, but Watson is so talented that he makes bad decisions work out.
This next play has to be one of the prettiest throws from his rookie season. As Watson hits the top of his drop, no one is open. But the elite QBs are able to throw their receivers open, even if they are being shut down like TE Ryan Griffen is right here. He has Safety Devin McCourtey draped all over him. Griffen is running a corner route, where he wants to win to the outside, but McCourtey has outside leverage on him, which is perfect to stop this route. Watson sees this but he doesn't care, he makes a perfect throw, to beat a perfect defense. Instead of throwing the corner route to the outside, he throws it to the inside, where only Griffen can get it. The ball placement couldn't have been better, and he gets rewarded with the clean TD.
The highlights didn't stop there, here's another glimpse of Watson mastering the art of avoiding sacks. There's pressure up the middle and slightly to the right of Watson. He's looking left initially, but from his peripheral vision he senses the pressure to his right. He jump cuts like a RB to get away from the first defender. Then a second defender comes flying in but he jump cuts away from him too. Finally, he makes two more defenders look silly by cutting to his right and making them run into each other. He looks like he's scrambling but as he draws two defenders towards him, he hits D'Onta Foreman on the easy dump off, which results in a massive gain. Ridiculous pocket presence and elusiveness here.
When faced up against the GOAT, Watson rose to the occasion. It was the first sign of many where he played his best when the stakes were at their highest. He threw two INTs, but we were still in the game the entire time, even having the lead until the final drive, where Brady broke our hearts. We should've won that game, it should've been the first notch on Watson's belt, beating the GOAT. But if you stick with this series, we'll get to the point when he finally does earn that notch. I can't wait to break that game down.
Week 4: Vs. Tennessee Titans
Hot off his best game as a Texan, the Tits, I mean Titans were up next. If you thought the Patriots game was full of highlights, whew, I've got something to show you. Watson would annihilate the competition, going 25/34 for 283 yards, 4 TDs and 1 INT. But most importantly, helping drop 57 points!
It was early in the game and when I saw this throw happen, I just had a feeling we were in for a show. After the play action fake Watson is forced to step up in the pocket to avoid pressure from his left. He sees Ellington running wide open down the middle of the field, but that there is a safety closing in on him. He steps into the throw and lasers the ball into Ellington's chest. Similar to his TD to Bruce against the Patriots, the ball placement is away from the safety, so he has no chance at an INT. Watching it live you could really appreciate how much zip Watson put on this ball, it was crazy.
This touchdown was yet another beautifully placed ball. We run our patented Yankee concept where we play action fake, max protect, Nuk and Fuller run deep crossing routes. Hop gains most of the attention and CB Adoree Jackson is late to see Fuller coming to his side of the field. He turns around but not soon enough, as Watson puts the ball over the LBs but in front of Jackson. This throw couldn't have been more perfect.
I absolutely love this next throw, and it really highlights Watson's arm strength and ball placement, yet again. He looks to Fuller on his right at first, then turns his head to find Nuk. He sees him streaking down the sideline, but with not much space to work with. He lasers a back shoulder ball to Nuk and puts it high and away from the CB, giving Nuk a chance to make the play. With the pocket collapsing around him, he stands tall, doesn't let his mechanics waver, and throws a beauty.
Last play of the article here, and boy is it a beauty. Fuller and Watson just had a special connection going this game (really every game) and you could see it on full display here. Fuller is running a fade from the slot and this is a tough throw for Watson. It needs to have enough touch and grace on the ball, for it to float into Fuller's hands. But he can't just lob it up and give the defender a chance on the ball. He tosses it up high and to the outside, sort of to the back corner of the end zone. This allows Fuller to shield the ball from the defender with his body, and bring down the TD. Beautiful throw, beautiful catch, beautiful game.
Watson hung a ridiculous 57 points on the Tits, I mean Titans. It was a spectacle to watch and I never wanted it to end. Having these two huge back to back weeks was monumental for Watson. You could see everything was starting to click for him. His arm strength, ball placement, and pocket escapability were all on full display. He looked like a completely different player from his first two games, to his next two games.
If you liked this article, you're in luck, this series will be going on for as long as my fingers can type. This was only four games, but there's tons more to come. We've got to recap 2017, 2018, 2019, and when it starts, you can bet we'll be back for every game of 2020. I'm excited to keep watching these games, and breaking down Watson's improvement. It's easy to forget he's a young QB, who still hasn't hit his ceiling. He's the heart and soul of the Texans, the team's saviour, and face of the franchise. Thank god I can finally rest easy, knowing we've escaped QB purgatory, and have the young GOAT, Deshaun Watson to show for it.