After one of the most monumental wins in Houston Texans history against the New England Patriots, everything in Texans land seemed joyous. We had beaten the elite, slain the giants, Bellichick who? The entire team seemed to click, and at a perfect time too, with the season nearing its end. Next up would be the Denver Broncos, Tennessee Titans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and the Titans again, to end it. Let's dive into the film and see how Quarterback Deshaun Watson played.
Watson Watch Volume 11: 2019 Weeks 14-16
Week 14: Vs. Denver Broncos
I hate to start off this volume of Watson Watch with this game. One of the most frustrating games in recent memory, it really seemed like everything was against us. We "should've" won that game, but "should've, would've, could've" that's a saying, right? The football gods saw that we beat the Patriots and decided we just weren't allowed to be happy for two weeks in a row. Our pattern of Loss, Win, Win was forced to continue. Watson would finish 28/50 for 292 yards, 1 TD and 2 INTs.
The game started off ugly, with Drew Lock finding his TE's time and time again, driving down the field and scoring first. It would get even uglier on our ensuing drive. After getting to midfield, the Texans went 5 wide to spread out the defense and get the ball out quickly. Watson's first read is Keke Coutee on a slant over the middle of the field. The Broncos are in a Cover 3 shell, but only rushing 3 defenders. The 4th down lineman (#97) is dropping in a short hook zone, and is tasked with Coutee. He easily crosses his face and gets open. Watson sees it quickly and fires, as soon as Coutee gets open. Easy completion, let's keep it moving. That's what "should've" happened. But instead the ball was ripped out of Coutee's hands on the tackle, and former Texan, Kareem Jackson took it back 70 yards for a touchdown.
It really doesn't get much more demoralizing than that. I was confused, bewildered and puzzled when I saw Kareem running the ball back. "He was down!" I screamed. He "should've" been down, but he wasn't. Sigh, 0-14 to the Denver freaking Broncos. No worry though, it was early in the game, and with Deshaun Watson, we are never out of a game.
We got to midfield on our next drive, yet again, but instead of a fluke play ending the drive, the Broncos would fool Watson. They start off pre snap in a 2 high shell (two deep safeties), and with the alignment of the LB (over slot WR) it looks like Cover 2 man. But then the other LB stunts towards the LOS, indicating a blitz. The Broncos are showing Watson so many different looks, it's hard for him to get a clear picture. After the snap, that blitzing LB backs off, and drops into a zone. The field safety (Justin Simmons) drops down from his two high position, indicating a Cover 3 or Cover 1. But then the nickel CB flies backwards into a deep half zone. The Broncos changed up the look of their defense more times than I could count, and within only a matter of seconds. Their final coverage is Tampa 2, and with all the pre and post snap motion, Watson's decision making is clouded. He looks right at first but quickly looks away. I have no idea why he didn't like it, because he had Kenny Stills on a post-corner, the perfect route to beat this coverage. He needed to throw it over the CBs flat zone, and just before the deep half, where the hole in a Cover 2 zone is. But, nonetheless, he decided against it, looking to the middle of the field, where Hopkins is. He had Duke open in the left flat, but on 3rd and 14, he wants the first down. He also has Jordan Akins on a corner route, but would need a ridiculously perfect throw to fit it in the hole of the Cover 2. It's the same "hole" shot that I was talking about with Kenny on the other side. If he led Akins just slightly upfield, he probably could complete this. That's an elite level throw, and the next step in his game. However, looking for Hopkins over the middle leads him to never even seeing Akins. He doesn't make the throw though, and deals with pressure, avoiding it easily however. He scrambles out to the left, but knows with the Broncos in zone, all of their eyes are on him, and he can't run for the 1st. He sees Hopkins working open, so he turns his shoulders to his target and fires the ball, as a last resort option. Hopkins is running to the right, but that cross body throw is ridiculously tough, and Watson leads him to the left just a tiny bit. That non-perfect ball placement gets Hopkins blasted by Kareem Jackson, who forces the incompletion, and ends the drive.
The defense was a huge issue, and made Drew Lock look like Peyton Manning. Each score was a demoralizing blow and sucked the life out of the offense as well. It wasn't until the second half that we would finally find the end zone. The Broncos had been playing either Cover 4 or Cover 3 match all day long. "Match" means zone coverage alignment, but man coverage principles, so if a WR came into your zone, you would follow them, even if they left your zone. The Broncos are in Cover 3 match on this play, and this is honestly the best example of BOB adjusting to a defense that I have ever seen. The whole idea is to clear the left side of the field, and get Hopkins open on a crossing route to that side. At the top of the screen, Stills is sent on a post, to drag the top CB off that side of the field (because of match principles). Clear the CB, check. Next, Coutee is running a post as well, and safety Kareem Jackson needs to take and follow him. Clear the Safety, check. This leaves Hopkins wide open on his crossing route, since he never directly goes into someone's zone, no one picks him up and follows him downfield. If this wasn't match defense, the top CB would've still be in position to make a play, but with his back turned, he never sees Hopkins running behind him until it's too late. Great play design by BOB and great execution by Watson, avoiding pressure, and making an off platform throw, right on the money.
But it was too little too late, the deficit was too large, and even after adding two rushing TDs in the 4th, the game was still out of reach. Watson added two late INTs and I'll look at the first one, to see what went wrong. Watson locked onto Akins the entire way, and was late to throw the curl route. Akins had somewhat boxed out the Safety Justin Simmons, and gotten inside position. But the throw had to be there as soon as Akins turned around. Instead, just a second later, and Simmons has the ability to react and fight back into the play. Watson takes the slightest hitch at the top of his drop, and that's all it takes to throw off the timing. Ugly INT.
Watson would throw another INT on the final play of the game, but the game was lost before that. The Broncos disguised their defense well, and threw off our offense for the first half of the game. BOB adjusted, but it just took too long. The slow start was devastating, and the Broncos had momentum all day long. The offense looked lifeless, and we can't expect to only play one half of football and win. It was disappointing to say the least, beating the Patriots, only to fall to the Broncos... We would never get the media's respect if we shit the bed right after our biggest win. We would have to move on though, it was just one loss, and with the division rival Titans up next, we needed a clear mind and our best effort.
Week 15: Vs. Tennessee Titans
This was an extremely pivotal game for playoff implications, and a win would essentially decide the victor of the AFC South. Watson would finish 19/27 for 243 yards, 2 TDs and 2 INTs. Not an amazing game, but he made plays when it mattered the most.
On the opening drive, the Texans methodically drove downfield, to the Titans 20 yard line. Unfortunately, we wouldn't get any farther. As Watson drops back, his first read is Fuller on the speed out, but that's covered nicely. While looking to his right, he also looks at Nuk, who looks like he is coming open. But the CB guarding Fuller has his eyes on Watson, and if he sees he was going to throw the corner route, he would drift off and intercept it. Watson is too smart to get baited like that, and looks to his right, to make his next read. Akins is covered in the flat, but Duke is open down the sideline. It's a tough throw that needs tons of velocity, but it's not impossible. The safety sees it too and darts over to Duke. Watson takes an extra split second to set his feet, then fire the ball, and that extra second is all it takes for the safety to get to the ball first. Red zone turnovers are gut wrenching, and an awful way to start the day.
Both teams offenses started off ice cold, and it wasn't until the J Reid/Mercilus INT that changed things for us. Down in the Titans red zone, Watson would finish them off this time. He motioned Nuk out of the backfield, and into the slot to check the coverage. Since a DB followed him, we know it's man, and with the Single high safety, we can assume Cover 1. Watson knows he can get Kenny Stills open on his post, with some eye manipulation. After the snap, Watson looks left to Hopkins, but this is just a distraction. Safety Kevin Byard takes a couple steps in that direction and boom, Watson fooled him. Kenny gets a step on his defender and Watson quickly turns in his direction. He fires a perfect throw, over the CBs head, and right into the hands of Kenny. That's a drop in a bucket if I've ever seen one. I'll keep harping on it, but Watson's ball placement is top notch.
Watson's 2nd touchdown would be more of the same. The Titans show a Cover 1 look again, and you just can't play single high against Watson. He will fool you every time, and poor Byard gets manipulated again. After the snap, Watson looks left, then looks to the middle, holding Byard in place. But just like the last TD, he knows he has Kenny the entire way. Stills kills the CB on his corner route, and Watson doesn't look his way until the last second. Then fires a perfect ball for 6!
My favorite throw from this game came late in the game though. I was screaming all day long for play action, because the Titans LBs were just selling out for the run, and we could use that against them. Finally, BOB obliged, and as Watson dropped back, things looked bleak. No one was open and pressure came right at his face. He avoided it calmly and scrambled to his right, waiting for someone to get open. Somehow Nuk noticed this and cut on his route, running in the same direction as Watson, to give him a target. Watson acknowledged that quickly, setting his shoulders to their target, twisting his hips, and firing a laser down field. That throw is absurdly tough and was still right on the money. Such an underrated throw, but that's simply because we've seen it so many times that we get desensitized to it. Hell of a play.
The Texans would hold on to beat the Titans 24-21 and were a win away from clinching the division. They were sitting pretty and beating the Tits is always a fun Sunday.
Week 16: Vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
After we punted it, the Bucs would just hand us the ball yet again. RB Peyton Barber fumbled it and we would be given ANOTHER chance to score. This time, FINALLY, we would find the end zone, as Carlos Hyde punches it in. But that didn't seem to get the offense in rhythm, as Watson would decide to do his best Winston impression and throw an INT. He had Kenny Stills open on a post, if he led him slightly inside, but instead, the throw was outside and behind Stills. This made it easy for the CB to pick it off and gave Stills no chance to make a play. Watson's ball placement is usually on point, and I would count this one up to not having the best chemistry with Stills just yet. They looked great for the most part, but there were definitely some deep balls that the two could've connected on. That chemistry will be a LOT better next season, and I would expect Kenny to ball out if given the opportunity.
After an exhilarating start, with countless turnovers, the rest of the game was pretty boring offensively. Both defenses did well to execute their game plan, and Watson was shut down from his usual stardom. Luckily, the defense had his back and a late INT by Jahleel Addae would seal the game, and the division. 2019 AFC SOUTH CHAMPIONS. While it's great to celebrate in the moment, that banner means nothing if we didn't show up in the playoffs. No more excuses, we have our QB, he's gotten his first playoff game blunder out of the way. This is the year, put up or shut up. Tune in next week to see me break down what happens against the Buffalo Bills. (not breaking down the final Titans game because this series is about Watson, and unfortunately not the AJ McCarron Watch.)