From an outsiders perspective, Deshaun Watson’s 2018 season might look like a regression from his 2017. He has a worse passer rating, worse touchdown percentage, and his rushing numbers are down from where they were in 2017. But the stats don’t tell the story.
Watson got off to a slow start due to a considerable amount of rust from the ACL injury. He had three rather uninspiring games in a row that dug the Texans to a 0-3 start. A switch must have turned on in his head, as Watson shook the rust and started being smarter with the ball.
During the current Texans win streak, Watson resembles the part of a franchise quarterback.
Some might think that the completion percentage could be due to check downs, but that’s not the case as he is averaging 12.06 yards per completion during the streak.
Those six interceptions aren’t as bad as it looks.
- Tipped pass by Preston Smith on a screen
- Bad pass by Watson intended for Coutee in triple coverage
- Broken play. Pass forced into the end zone.
- Tipped pass at the line of scrimmage
- Hailmary-esque throw that was forced due to incoming pressure
- Forced pass into double coverage to Hopkins
Out of six interceptions, I’ve concluded that two were indeed ‘boneheaded’ mistakes. Two were tipped at the line of scrimmage on a very athletic play by a lineman. One was due to nobody being open, and the denial of throwing the ball away. Lastly, one was due to forcing the ball down the field.
Here is one of the interceptions that I find absolutely inexcusable. I get it Deshaun, you want to push the ball down the field. You’re a gamer, and most of the time it works out for you. BUT NOT HERE DESHAUN.
Simply put, this is inexcusable. He holds onto the ball for far too long, which hinders his ability to get a clean pass off. But, Deshaun has gotten better, and these mistakes were much more common earlier on in the year and during his rookie year.
Despite the incompletion, this play shows Watson’s increased willingness to get the ball out of his hands quickly.
Recently, I read Bruce Arians’ book The Quarterback Whisperer. One of the biggest takeaways I got from his work was that Arians always told his quarterbacks to look downfield first, then take the check down, no matter the down and distance. Arians would love Watson’s desire to make big plays. He can also appreciate the fact that Watson gets better week by week in taking his check downs when needed.
This next play is the furthest thing from a check down.
On 2nd and 8, Houston is up by four with five minutes left in the third quarter. O’Brien most likely wanted Watson to be safe with the ball and not take any risks to guarantee a win.
This play has Will Fuller V sprinting down the field to open up the middle for Watson to throw for a first down and keep the clock ticking. But, Watson reads the defense and realizes the Dolphins are in Cover 2 man. If you’ve ever played Madden before you know that a post route can scorch that coverage.
In the red zone, quarterbacks must be in attack mode. Watson does just that. He has the decision to pass to either Thomas on the fly-route or Hopkins on the wheel-route off the fake bubble screen. Initially, both receivers look open, which confuses Josh Norman.
Note that the Redskins are in Cover 3 with HaHa Clinton Dix set to the right. This alignment forces Norman to help cover the left side seam.
Watson has also gotten more comfortable with those around him, letting him know which players are a mismatch with opposing defenders.
Notice below that the Broncos are in man coverage, and Watson has the matchup he wants. The 6’2″ Josey Jewell who isn’t particularly nimble athletisism versus a 6’6″ Jordan Thomas with sure hands (who has turned into a significant red zone threat). Rookie vs. Rookie, who wins?
Not only has Deshaun improved in the passing game, but he is also a lot smarter while running the ball. Remember, he injured his lung and ribs during the Cowboys OT thriller. Watson naturally was told to run less.
Watson has been active with his legs despite the injury. Though, he now tends to slide more and runs only when he has to.
Watson has also been more efficient because both the play calling and protection has been better. You can read an article about the line’s improvement here.
Of course, we know that Watson also might be a magician. This play proves that.
But he also has improved substantially to where he doesn’t need to be a magician to be a nightmare for every defensive coordinator in his way.
-Avery Duncan IG: @TexansFocus