Film Room: Deshaun Watson

Film Room: Deshaun Watson

by Derrik Klassen

Deshaun Watson became the quarterback prodigy of the future this time last season. After a rough first couple of games, Watson exploded for 19 total touchdowns and a 9.39 yards per pass average from Week 3 through Week 9. Watson was exciting and daring, but more importantly, he clearly looked as though he belonged in the NFL and would climb to the upper echelon of the league's quarterback ranks in due time. Unfortunately, an ACL injury cut Watson's miracle season short. Just like that, Watson's moment in the limelight came to an end. Other stars such as Patrick Mahomes and Baker Mayfield snatched Watson's crown this season as the prized young quarterback that everyone wishes their team had drafted.

A middling Week 1 showing and a 1-3 record have cast a shadow on Watson's season, but the second-year passer is better than he was a year ago and is well on his way to being every bit as good as the Texans hoped he could be. Watson's progress and performance deserve to be appreciated.

Part of what has made Watson's season impressive thus far is how he has produced despite an atrocious offensive line. Through four weeks, Houston is dead last in offensive pressure rate at 38.0 percent. Watson has been sacked 17 times as a result, which trails only Buffalo's quarterbacks, who have been sacked 21 times.

If anything, it is impressive that Watson does not concede more sacks and bigger losses than he does. Seventeen sacks through four games is certainly a lot, but that number very well could be higher if not for Watson's mobility and awareness. Watson has also only given up 84 total yards due to sacks, an average of 4.94 yards per sack. Compare that to the 84 yards Ryan Tannehill has given up on just eight sacks (10.5 yards per sack) or the 126 yards Eli Manning has conceded on 15 sacks (8.4 yards per sack). This does not mean Watson never takes 10-plus-yard sacks, but it does mean Watson consistently mitigates losses by trying to make it to the line of scrimmage when pressure arrives and not scrambling backwards. Watson salvages many bad plays and seldom makes bad plays worse.

That said, it is still unfortunate that Watson is regularly thrust into the position of dealing with constant pressure.

Both of these screenshots show the moment Watson's back foot hit the top of his dropback. In both examples, an edge rusher has already won around the outside shoulder of the left tackle and created a clear path to the quarterback. Within a second of each moment, Watson will be taken down if he does not act quickly and either bail the pocket or check the ball down. Of course, this type of protection blunder will happen to every team on occasion, but this is the norm for the Texans. Watson is regularly placed under instant duress and asked to bail his offensive line out. It feels like a miracle from Heaven above any time Watson gets a clean pocket.

Few quarterbacks in the league are as equipped to handle relentless pressure the way Watson is. Watson is confident, nimble in the pocket, and skilled as an on-the-move passer and scrambler.

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This is one of the best examples all season of Watson's poise and ability to adjust under pressure. Not long after Watson hits the top of his deep drop, the Giants pass rush closes in on him. Watson evades the initial would-be tackler with a shoulder tuck, which not only makes Watson a tougher target to grab hold of, but also protects the ball by keeping it tight to Watson's chest and away from the defender. Though a minor detail, it highlights the minutia in Watson's game that helps make him effective.

Once free from the initial pressure, Watson moves up in the pocket a few steps before feeling the pressure from another pass-rusher in front of him. Watson takes a small side step to keep himself clean from the pass-rusher and dumps off a pass in the flat, where his tight end has wiggled free with room to roam down the sideline. The throw itself may not have been special in this example, but these are the type of plays top quarterbacks are expected to squeak out.

Watson does not always need to evade the pressure, though. Watson is plenty comfortable with taking a hit if it means he can deliver the necessary throw. That is never the ideal situation for a quarterback, but the reality is that quarterbacks are going to get hit. They must be able to respond with pass rushers in their face.

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In this example, Houston is in an empty formation with trey to the left (trips with a tight end) and a tight offset stack to the right. The Giants defense is showing blitz before the snap as one of their linebackers is walked up over the center. True to James Betcher's M.O., the blitz comes through and is even accompanied with a twist over the left side of the offensive line. Watson understands the pressure is coming, but he also knows that the linebacker blitz and a single-high deep safety means the middle of the field will be open. Watson remains calm as a defender barrels toward him and delivers a strike to DeAndre Hopkins just before getting blasted by a pass-rusher. Command and control of that caliber is rare for such a young quarterback.

To that same note, Watson is not one to shrivel up on third down. Third downs often require more of the quarterback by way of handling blitzes and making plays outside of structure. Watson thrives in both areas.

Per Bill Connelly of SB Nation, the Texans have the third-highest average third-down distance at 9.0 yards, likely due to the amount of sacks they have allowed, yet they rank 13th in third-down conversion rate at 38.5 percent. Further, Watson has converted on 12 of the 19 third- or fourth-and-long (6 yards or more) opportunities for which he has been responsible this season. Keep in mind, Watson has made this possible with the worst offensive line in the NFL.

via Gfycat

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This was no typical third down. The Texans were in third-and-9 while down 34-31 in overtime. Had the Texans failed to convert here or on the following fourth down, the game would have ended in a Texans loss and an 0-4 start to the season. With the game on the line, Watson makes a smooth roll out of the pocket to his right and rifles a pass on the sideline to rookie wide receiver Keke Coutee. At no point during the play did Watson appear frazzled or antsy about the game potentially ending. Watson knew where pressure was coming from, how to respond, and where to find a viable target to move the sticks. The Texans did not end up scoring a game-winning touchdown on that drive, but Watson did set the team up to tie the game with a field goal, allowing them to win the game with another field goal at the very end of overtime.

On top of all the veteran savvy and poise that Watson has shown this season, sometimes it is simply his arm talent and accuracy that dazzles more than anything. Coming out of Clemson in 2017, Watson was knocked for his arm strength, which was primarily a result of him throwing a putrid 49 MPH on the radar gun at the NFL combine. Watson had never really shown lackluster arm talent in college, but the radar gun speed spooked many into believing that maybe their eyes had deceived them and that Watson would struggle to fit NFL windows.

via Gfycat

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It is safe to say Watson has silenced the criticism about his arm talent. Watson may not have the booming strength of Cam Newton or Aaron Rodgers, but he throws with plenty of velocity and displays the ball control to place any pass wherever he wants to. The throw above, for example, showcases how well Watson can drive the ball down the field into difficult windows. For Watson to be able to loft the ball over the linebacker, but put enough juice on it for the pass to arrive before the receiver runs into the safeties, is an indisputable display of NFL arm talent.

If there is anything to humble Watson about, it is that he continues to be plagued by Superman syndrome. Not unlike Jameis Winston or Matthew Stafford, Watson has a tendency to force passes that he has no business attempting. Oddly enough, these poor decisions hardly come on third down or in the red zone, but rather on standard downs. Watson's mistake is often locking onto a particular target early in the play, usually Hopkins, and finding any way to force them the ball, even if they are covered by the entire opposing secondary.

That said, Watson is likely to always be this type of passer. Watson was the same way with Mike Williams at Clemson and has shown he will exude confidence in his favorite playmaker no matter the situation. Thankfully for Watson, he makes up for his mistakes as well as possible and makes it easier to live with his blunders.

Watson is no longer the shiny new toy, but he is no less a star than his peers. The spotlight moving away from Watson is a disservice to the player he already is and will continue to develop into. Though their 1-3 record may not show it, the Texans have one of the most electric and valuable quarterbacks in the league with Watson.


6 comments, Last at 08 Oct 2018, 8:14pm

1 Re: Film Room: Deshaun Watson

That downfield throw really shows how small NFL windows are. There are literally four defenders a millisecond away from intercepting that ball. The ability to see that space and make the perfect throw... It's as if NFL QBs are great athletes or something.
That first game against NE was a disaster, albeit one as much on the D as Watson. That was the healthiest Houston has ever been against the Pats and the D was still clowned. Some coaches never seem to be able to execute against Belichick's schemes, no matter how much in-game talent they have. Other coaches adapt fairly quickly. Perhaps Belichick let O'Brien escape Foxboro only after he agreed to have a large chunk of his cerebral cortex removed.

3 Re: Film Room: Deshaun Watson

The key point of this article is how well Watson is playing under presssure; it was underscored perfectly. Watson contains all the elements to make a complete QB, both inside and outside the pocket, and is the closest player in the NFL to prime Aaron Rodgers.

5 Re: Film Room: Deshaun Watson

In that first clip, where the line slides to the right and then the centre peels out to pick up the end crashing down - is that play design? I'm assuming so as it looks like it would be very difficult for the centre to know that guy is coming unblocked and the LT wouldn't just leave him unblocked? Even though he was still under pressure from the rusher who beats the RG, that's a pretty cool blocking play design. Nice route by Keke Coutee (what a name!) in the second clip and I believe that third clip is what you call a 'big time' or 'money' throw. Amazing stuff by Watson whilst he's getting blasted as well.

6 Re: Film Room: Deshaun Watson

I watched the Sunday night game against Dallas and was really impressed. I don't watch him very often but he seemed really poised, able to avoid the rush when needed and made some amazing throws on the run. If they could beef up that line, Houston could be a real force.