This week I break down the first four games of the Houston Texans 2019 season, through the lens of Quarterback Deshaun Watson. Games against the Saints, Jaguars, Chargers and Panthers seemed like a tough task at the time. After being bounced in the first round of the playoffs last year, Watson and the Texans were on a mission to prove themselves this year. Let's see how they started off the year and if they set a winning tone.
Watson Watch Volume 8: 2019 Weeks 1-4
Week 1: Vs. New Orleans Saints
Monday Night Football, with a huge test against Super Bowl contenders and one of the top teams in the league. I'm sure every national media station picked the Saints to win this in a landslide, and for us to fall on our faces. I was hyped for the matchup, but have to admit didn't expect to see us put up the fight that we did. I thought this would be another big stage moment where BOB would find a way to embarrass ourselves. But this seemed like an entirely different Texans team, one that went blow for blow with an elite team on a big stage. Watson was a huge reason for that, finishing 20/30 for 268 yards, 3 TDs and 1 INT. He also added 40 rushing yards and another TD on the ground. Let's see what the film says about his performance.
It took a couple drives but with the help of a 54 yard bomb to Will Fuller, the Texans made it the Saints red zone. They were tasked with an underrated defense and were forced into 4th and 1. Money down, and in years past, BOB would've likely handed the ball off and leaned on an ineffective run game. But finally finding your franchise QB changes things, and it was Watson's show to run.
I like the Texans formation here, using Akins as an H back and with Fells to the left side, they're setting up their best blockers to get into space and help Watson on this read option. Watson is reading DE Marcus Davenport (#92) and he takes a couple steps downhill, looking to tackle Carlos Hyde. Biting on the fake is deadly when you've got a QB like Watson, who's electric with his legs. Watson takes the ball, hits the outside and gets the first down easily. But he's not done there, Fells does a great job to push his defender into another defender, killing two birds with one stone. Akins also gets out in space and does just enough to get in the way of the defender, and open up a sliver of space for Watson to work. With one defender to beat, Watson subtly cuts it inside and dives into the end zone for the TOUCHDOWN!
I don't know about you, but when I saw that Watson was slow to get up my heart sunk. I was exhilarated by the TD, but then quickly lost all excitement as I thought the season could be lost. Luckily it was nothing serious and Watson would play through it. Whew, I can't go through losing him for an entire season again, please don't ever do that to us football gods.
As the game went on the Texans found themselves in the red zone again, this time Watson throws a slant to DeAndre Hopkins for six, putting us up 14-3. I don't feel the need to show and break down this play because I'm sure you can all close your eyes and picture what it looked like. Hopkins isolated to the left side, runs a slant against press coverage, beats it inside, Watson puts the ball out in front of him and that's six. Easy right!
The Saints would respond with a touchdown of their own, but Watson wasn't down working. He would drive us down the field again into Saints territory. With Hopkins in the slot, Watson was locked onto him. Hop runs a simple go route up the seam and this is an area of the field I would love for us to attack more. With athletic weapons, the seams are a high risk-high reward area of the field and Jordan Akins in particular could eat there. I'm getting ahead of myself too much here, so back to this play. Watson sees that the Saints are giving a Cover 3 look pre snap, so he does really well to stare down the middle of the field and hold the free safety. Post snap the Saints roll to a Cover 4 instead, but Watson's eyes still help draw attention away from Hop. Who cuts inside and Watson finds him with a perfect ball to get into the end zone. 21-10 Texans!
Drew Brees, being the HOF QB that he is, wasn't going to let Deshaun out duel him, so he responded with a touchdown drive of his own. The game was crazy entertaining to watch, and seemed like one of those passing of the torch, games. On our next drive, Watson looking to deliver another punch, wanted to go deep to Fuller, who had a step on his CB. Unfortunately he under threw the ball, and the free safety was able to pick it off. This was a DEEP throw, and while Watson was the 2nd most accurate QB in the NFL in passer rating on throws 20+ yards down the field, that number plummeted on throws 30+ yards down the field. This was one of those throws...
Brees would capitalize on the mistake and put another 7 on the board for the bad guys. Then, later into the 4th quarter the Saints put on another 3 points, to take a 27-21 lead with just 53 seconds left. Deshaun saw the situation, 1 minute drill, no timeouts, primetime TV, and rose to the occasion like the clutch star he is. On this first play, the Saints are in Cover 2 man, trying to just keep everything in front of them, and guard the sideline as well. Hopkins runs a great modified go route. He releases vertical first, then pushes the CB to the sideline, pretending like he's running an out or corner, then goes vertical yet again. What this does is open a throwing window for Watson, to fit the ball in between the CB and the Safety. Watson sees it and executes perfectly, throwing a ball that only Nuk can bring down. With no timeouts it was pivotal that they also got out of bounds, which they did, and that was like a cherry on top.
Now on the Saints 37 yard line, we were inching away from field goal position, but we couldn't settle for 3, we needed that touchdown, and Watson willed it into existence. This time the Saints are far more aggressive than just sitting in Cover 2, and it burns them. They play a combo coverage, where the top two DBs are in man, and everyone else in zone, and also bring a blitz. There's a free runner blazing down at Deshaun from his left, so he steps away from the pressure, giving him an extra split second to laser a ball to Kenny Stills, guiding him into the end zone. That throw was on a ROPE, and one of the most clutch throws I had ever seen.
All it took was two plays, seven seconds off the clock, and probably not even a sweat. The Texans had taken the lead 28-27 and victory seemed imminent. Deshaun Watson was seconds away from another clutch statement win, in front of the entire world. That's what SHOULD have happened but as we all know, not what actually transpired. Drew Brees and the Saints, with just one timeout to work with, marched down the field and set up a 58 yard game winning field goal. Snap. Kick. Boom. Right through the uprights. Brees really didn't have to just one up Watson's clutch drive. JUST LET THE YOUNG GOAT HAVE HIS MOMENT! It was a spoiled win, and heartbreaking defeat. A clutch, eye opening victory was stolen from the Texans, and all the media would be talking about was how we choked. They were right, the defense sh*t the bed, and ruined it for Watson. Let's hope this doesn't continue to be a theme...
Week 2: Vs. Jacksonville Jaguars
After a tough loss it's always great to play a... how should I put this... sh*t opponent! And the Jags are just that, the perfect punching bag to get our frustrations out. However, this game wouldn't be an easy win, and Watson didn't exactly ball out. He finished 16/29 for 159 yards, 0 TDs, 0 INTs and 1 rushing TD. Let's see what caused the struggles.
One reason for the lack of passing yards was that the Texans were running their "short passing game" offense. We went 5 wide a lot, spreading out the defense and making the reads easier for Deshaun. We did this partly because the Saints DL tore up our OL last week, and the Jags with Yannick Ngakoue, Calais Campbell and Josh Allen could do far worse. Only Week 2, we hadn't found the right combination of 5 OL yet, and needed to protect Watson at all costs. So on this 3rd and 2, the Texans go 5 wide and Watson locks on to Hopkins. He's running an out to the right, and with Ramsey on him, he needs to be super physical. That's Hop's specialty, he wins and Watson finds him for 3 yards, moving the chains.
They took the "death by a thousand cuts" approach that game. Leading Watson to have just 9.9 yards per completion. The other issue to look at was the lack of touchdowns. We've been accustomed to Watson having at least 2 a game, but zero passing TDs looks confusing when looking at the box score. The Texans offense stalled in the red zone this game, something they struggled with heavily in 2018, but would come to improve greatly in 2019.
On this 3rd down in the red zone, the Texans have a perfect play dialed up for the TD. Will Fuller, Jordan Akins and Duke Johnson work the right side of the field. Fuller runs a post, clearing out his CB and acting as decoy #1. Akins runs into the flat, drawing 2 defenders, acting as decoy #2. Duke runs a corner route out of the backfield and no LB can stick with him. Watson sees that he's open and throws it. He tries to lead Duke upfield because he sees that the Safety cant get to the throw, and if Duke sees it too, they have a walk in touchdown. Unfortunately, Duke runs his corner at too sharp of an angle (how he's supposed to) and doesn't see how much space upfield he has. So Watson's throw goes un-caught.
That play is a perfect example of the intricacies to a BOB (and most NFL) offense. The QB and receiver need to always be on the same page because they can change the route/angle at the last second. There's no way for Watson to tell Duke to run more upfield, he just has to trust that Duke notices it. It doesn't work on this play, likely because the two haven't had the time to develop the chemistry that's needed to see that opening, and trust the other will see it too.
As I mentioned earlier, the Texans did their best to get the ball out quick and avoid Sacksonville. While that formula worked (only 2 sacks taken), let's look at one of those sacks. On 3rd and 10 the Jags line up in an exotic look. With only three down linemen, they also have two LBs circling the A gaps like sharks preying on their food. Watson assumes the Jags are only sending 5, and thus sends both the TE and RB out on routes, instead of blocking. But the Jags aren't just sending 5, the 6th guy is DB DJ Hayden, who was essentially acting as a nickel defender here. If you've followed Watson Watch you know that I've talked a lot about Watson's struggles with the nickel blitz. This one was pretty obvious because Hayden kept creeping to the line and there wasn't even a WR he was near that Watson would think he was covering. The protection doesn't get slid to the right, and Watson tries to step up from the initial pressure, but runs right into Hayden who gets a clear path to the sack.
I'm not trying to harp on the negatives in this game, it just wasn't the greatest performance and I'm showing y'all why. You can learn more from your losses (we still won) than your wins. I really hope we see some growth from Watson when dealing with blitzes. He didn't really improve on that throughout 2018, but he's a worker, and hopefully 2019 was different and 2020 will be even better.
Let's take a look at his rushing touchdown, which despite all these fakes, was a pass the entire way. We motion Coutee across the formation to try and move the defense to the left, while the play goes to the right. Then we also fake the handoff but there's no world where Watson was ever handing this off. People talk a lot about the difference between a play action and an RPO. The main difference is how the OL blocks, for a play action they fake the run block, then actually pass block. On this play you can see that the OL never fakes a run block, they just rollout a bit and get into their pass block sets. So this is an RPO, but like I said Watson really wants to take the ball himself. He pulls the ball from the mesh point so quickly and is trying to find Nuk over the middle. He's covered, so Watson tucks it and runs it into the end zone. That's the danger of the RPO, Watson's legs are elite and something defenses must be so frustrated with having to deal with. Even if the receivers are locked up, good luck catching him.
The Texans would go on to win the game, thanks to some last second heroics by Justin Reid, stopping Leonard Fournette on the goal line. It wasn't a pretty win, but it was a win, and that's all that mattered. Onto the next one.
Week 3: Vs. Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers were thought of as one of the top contenders in the AFC at the time, so going into their territory was no easy task. However, elite QB play trumps all, and that's exactly what Watson displayed. He clearly wasn't happy with his performance vs the Jaguars, and took it out on the Chargers, finishing 25/34 for 351 yards, 3 TDs and 0 INTs.
One of my favorite plays of the season had to be the flea flicker we completed that game. BOB gets a lot of hate for not being creative enough for the offense, and I thought he did a better job of that last year, at times. The play's executed to perfection, you can really see how the handoff draws the defense in. The underrated part of this play is Kenny Stills really selling the fake. Look how lackadaisical he acts, like the play is over, and then just bursts upfield and burns the CB. Watson also deserves praise on this play for an amazing throw. He has pressure in his face and thus not a lot of time to gather himself and make a deep throw. But he has such a quick release that really helps him out here, and the touch he shows is just amazing. Man, if only Kenny took that for six!
That play helped set up Deshaun's first touchdown, which was a great display of the potential of this OL. Look how well they handle the rush and give Deshaun FOREVER to find someone open. You can also see how Deshaun looks locked in on Hopkins once the ball is snapped. He stares him down for a couple seconds but once he knows for sure he is covered, he makes his way through his progressions. He moves to the right of the pocket and gets a clear view of Darren Fells wide open. He fires the ball on a rope and hits Fells for six! There were two defenders closing in on the throw, but don't let anyone tell you Watson doesn't have an arm.
This play made me so happy to watch. The Chargers are sending a nickel blitz and in years past (and last game) Watson struggled heavily with it. I probably sound like a broken record but I always believe a player can improve, and Watson is no exception. The Chargers pretend like the LB up the middle is blitzing, but they're really sending CB Desmond King (#20) off the right edge. He does a good job to disguise it, but Deshaun sniffs it out. He quickly turns to his right and dumps it off to Duke who does the rest, making multiple defenders miss and picking up the first.
Beating this blitz is that simple. Step 1, locate where the blitz is coming from. Step 2, slide the protection that way. Step 3, if you don't slide it, just find your hot route and get rid of it quickly. Watson took Step 3 to heart and look how we benefited. Blitzing is boom or bust because it opens up a hole in the defense, where that blitzing defender was. That hole is evident by Duke Johnson having space to work with. So, if we can pinpoint where the blitz is coming from, we can really punish a defense.
Later in the game, Watson continued his hot streak and was rewarded with another TD to a TE. This time it was Jordan Akins' turn to get in on the fun. He runs a simple go route up the seam and is wide open. There's really nothing crazy to this play, just another strong and fast throw out of Deshaun to get the ball into a window and in the end zone. I've been SCREAMING for Akins to attack the seams more and this is great, but I want to see it on a consistent basis. FEED AKINS.
Akins would continue to eat and prosper, shortly after his first TD, he found himself in the end zone again. This time would definitely be a lot harder. Watson has to avoid a million defenders trying to sack him, but somehow comes out unscathed. He starts to scramble and while he probably could've gotten the first down with his legs, he continues to look downfield and scan for anyone open. This attribute cannot be understated, and it shows its value right here. He finds Akins WIDE open and dumps it off for the 53 yard TD. Akins is one of the most athletic TE's in the NFL and aint no one catching him.
That TD would hold on and win us the game, as the Chargers could never recover and strike back. It was a super impressive performance by Deshaun, who had highlight throws, but also showed great improvement vs the nickel blitz. I really hope that latter trend continues for 2019 (and the former trend, but you know where I was going).
Week 4: Vs. Carolina Panthers
Two wins in the books and we seemed like we were picking up momentum. I thought the Panthers game was pretty much a certain W. That Chargers W was a big time confidence booster, and the Panthers weren't in their league, especially with Kyle Allen at QB. However, it was one of Watson's worst games of his career, finishing 21/33 for just 160 yards, 0 TDs and 0 INTs. He did add 1 rushing TD, but for most of the day, the offense was shut down.
A big reason for the struggles was the 6 sacks Watson took. That consistently put our offense behind and we didn't know how to recover. The beauty of our "short pass offense" is that you are always chipping away, and always setting up 3rd and shorts. That's how the offense is designed, it's NOT designed to be playing from 2nd and long and 3rd and long. So when the Texans got in a lot of those situations, they didn't have the answers to solve the problem.
Some of those plays were on Deshaun, but some of them were just good defense from the Panthers. On this play, look how they change their looks pre-snap and post-snap. At first, it looks like they are in a Cover 3, but after a couple seconds it looks like a blitz is coming from Eric Reid on the left. Then he backs off and it looks like another DB is blitzing from the right. This is really confusing to deal with as a QB because you cant slide the protection both ways. I think Watson believes it's coming from the right, which causes him to lock onto Keke Coutee as his primary read. The Panthers do blitz from the right but it's LB Shaq Thompson instead of the DB, who beats Greg Mancz easily and sacks Watson. That was great but their coverage was also lock down. You can see Watson stare down Coutee, wanting to go to him because he thought he was going to be hot. But the DB stays on Coutee and shuts him down. Watson was thinking about forcing it to Coutee, but wisely pump fakes instead, holding onto the ball, and living to fight another down, instead of throwing an INT.
Here's a throw that Watson is going to want back. He missed a deep bomb to Fuller earlier, just barely overthrowing him, and it happens again with Hop this time. Hop runs a nice sluggo to get open deep down field, but Watson had to step up in the pocket to avoid pressure. This made his mechanics a bit sloppy. He hopped nicely to hold balance but look at how his shoulders are square, instead of sideways. This makes it harder to get your legs under you, and so this throw was mainly arms. Which makes it crazier to think he overthrew this, but you have to imagine, if he has a clean pocket, this would've been six.
It wasn't all bad though, and thanks to a fumble forced by JJ Watt, the Texans were in the red zone with a prime scoring opportunity. The read option game was a huge part of the red zone success last year, and will have to play an even bigger role this year with Hop gone. Watson sees that the read man slides down just a bit to the handoff. While he doesn't aggressively attack Hyde, he moves just enough where Watson knows that he can takeoff for six. He's just too athletic, if you don't play Watson on these, he's gonna beat you to the edge and there's nothing you can do about it.
Unfortunately that would be the only time we sniffed the end zone, and the Panthers were able to somehow squeak out a win 16-10. It was a frustrating game to watch live, and frustrating to rewatch now. Watson missed reads and some throws, but the Panthers defense also made some nice plays. It just wasn't our day and we fell to 2-2. It was a bit of a demoralizing defeat, one that majority thought we would take. Was that Chargers W not as good as it seemed? If we couldn't beat the teams that we SHOULD beat, are we not different than any other BOB Texans team? Come back next week for the next volume of Watson Watch, breaking down the film of the Falcons, Chiefs, Colts and Raiders games!