Evaluating Deshaun Watson

Deshaun Watson is off to a great start to his career. Through 4 games (3 starts), he has completed almost 65% of his passes for 811 yards and 7 touchdowns with 4 interceptions. He has also added 148 yards on the ground to go with 2 rushing touchdowns. Considering the Texans did not have him slated as their Week 1 starter, it is fair to say that Watson has exceeded all early expectations.

Last week against the Titans, Watson’s talent was on full display. His first throw, a 35-yard dart on a post route, set up the Texans’ first touchdown. The arm strength and accuracy on this play were tremendous, but it was his ability to move with the intention of throwing instead of running that enabled this big play to happen. Many young quarterbacks, especially mobile ones, break down as soon as they feel the pass rush. When they move, they look to run. Below, you can see that at the point where Watson moved to avoid the rush, he had plenty of opportunity and space to take off running.

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But Watson showed maturity beyond his years here. As he moved, he kept his eyes downfield. Then he reset his feet and put himself in position to throw the ball with power and accuracy.

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This is extremely encouraging to see out of a young quarterback.

Watson is a true double threat. Most double-threat quarterbacks get in trouble when they move in response to the pass rush and only look to run. Sometimes they can make plays with their legs, but they often miss the opportunity to make even bigger plays more consistently by not keeping their focus downfield. The ability to move to throw instead of moving to run is what makes a quarterback like Aaron Rodgers, for instance, so dangerous. It is difficult for defenders to cover receivers for more than a few seconds, and a quarterback’s ability to avoid the rush, buy time, and reset his feet can generate game-changing plays. For Houston, it’s good to see that Watson clearly has this trait as a part of his repertoire.

Watson showed good ball placement all afternoon as well. Ball placement is different than accuracy. Accuracy is about the ability to throw the ball where you are aiming. We like to define ball placement as the quarterback’s ability to make the right throw to beat the coverage. This trait combines actual throwing accuracy, vision, and spatial awareness of defenders during the throw. Watson has exhibited this trait several times through the first four weeks of the season, and he did so on many throws last Sunday. He was especially impressive on several short 3rd-down throws where he led his receiver away from nearby defenders – sometimes that meant throwing balls high and towards the sidelines, and other times that meant putting the ball low and forcing his receiver to the ground away from defenders. Watson looked especially comfortable on back-shoulder throws. He completed several fade-stop routes to the outside and delivered an impressive back-shoulder throw for a touchdown on a fade route from the slot.

Watson seems to be getting more comfortable by the week, and a part of this is due to the play calling. The Texans have a versatile running game with Watson at the helm. This has added to Houston’s success on the ground in recent weeks. Off of this success, Bill O’Brien has been calling a ton of play-action. Not only does this help freeze defenders, but also, it simplifies reads in the passing game. This is extremely helpful for a young quarterback. As good as Watson looked on Sunday against Tennessee, he was aided greatly by the newfound versatility and success of the running game as well as the play-action off of it.

Before we put Watson in the Hall of Fame, though, we have to point out that he did still have his rookie moments. There were a few plays where he either stared down his receivers or took too long to progress from one read to the next due to lack of coverage recognition.

Additionally, his interception at the end of the first half was pretty bad. It was a terrible decision and the physical throw itself was poor. However, it stemmed from Watson looking at the pass rush instead of the coverage. This made him overly reactive to pass rush pressure (he actually had a lot of time on this play), and his feet broke down as a result. When he looked up and spotted his receiver open in the end zone, he couldn’t get enough on his throw because his lower body had broken down due to the unnecessary movement. He was not in the position he needed to be in to properly execute the throw.

Watson’s flaws are definitely correctable, which is good news for the Texans. The more experience he gets, the more disciplined and consistent he will be with his feet when reacting to the pass rush. And if he continues to show the ability to move to throw instead of moving to run, he will continue making life difficult for opposing defenders.

Posted in AFC South, Houston Texans | Tagged , | Leave a comment

How the Redskins Shut Down the Raiders Offense

On Sunday night, the Redskins held an explosive Raiders offense to just 10 points and 128 total yards. Oakland’s only scores (a touchdown and a field goal) came on drives that started inside the Redskins’ 20-yard line after turnovers. Needless to say, Washington took it to the Raiders. So how exactly were they able to do it?

Derek Carr likes to get the ball out of his hands quickly for easy completions. The Raiders offense is largely predicated on these constant positive plays. As a result, the Redskins were conscious of trying to take these plays away. On Oakland’s second snap of the game, the Redskins offered an initial glimpse of this gameplan by playing cover-2. With both corners sitting on the outside, Carr held onto the ball and made an ill-advised decision to force a deep throw into double coverage. The result was an interception.

Another way that the Redskins took away those easy quick throws was by playing off coverage but then sitting on routes on the perimeter. On the play below, you can see that the Redskins are playing man free (man-to-man coverage with one deep safety) with their corners playing about 8-10 yards off on the outside.

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Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com Gamepass

The Redskins had their slot defenders lock up on their receivers, and their linebackers sat inside.

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As Raiders receivers got deeper into their routes, Washington’s outside corners, Josh Norman and Bashaud Breeland barely retreated. You can see that Norman looked like he was squatting, and both corners were playing with a little bit of lean towards the line of scrimmage.

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Clearly, neither was worried about getting burned on a deep route despite not having any safety help over the top.

It can be risky to play this type of coverage with only one deep safety. Most teams will only have their corners sit on routes if they have safety help or if there is a blitz called and they are anticipating a quick throw. Because of this, if there is only one deep safety and the two corners on the outside are playing off, the read for the quarterback is generally that deep go-routes are dead and quick throws to the outside are available. But with Washington’s corners sitting on the outside instead of dropping, they were ready for anything short. Carr had nowhere to go with the ball on this play and the result was a sack. A similar story played out for most of the night.

The natural response to this on offense is to run go-routes or double moves. However, this is easier said than done. Several times, the Redskins looked like they would be playing single-high (one deep safety) only to rotate to 2-deep at the snap. The Raiders could not rely on calling go-routes or double-moves with two deep safeties occasionally rotating over the top at the snap.

The other element preventing the Raiders from successfully attacking deep was the Redskins’ pass rush. They were able to overpower the Raiders offensive line at times, which meant Carr often did not have time to hold onto the ball and attack downfield. Not only were the Redskins able to win individual matchups up front, but also the manner in which they rushed the passer was especially effective. Washington’s outside pass rushers were conscious of not rushing too far upfield. This left Carr with no escape lanes to make things happen with his legs as the pocket collapsed around him.

Had the Raiders been able to get something going on the ground, Washington’s approach might have changed. But the Redskins defensive line did not allow for much push at the line of scrimmage, and their linebackers did a great job of reading and reacting quickly to Oakland runs. This contributed to the Raiders facing 3rd-and-long on what seemed like every drive of the game.

It is still way too early in the season for teams to have already defined themselves. But through the first 3 weeks of the 2017 season, the Redskins defense looks like a significantly improved unit versus a year ago.

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Titans Offense Took Advantage of Seattle Defense’s Aggressiveness

Just by looking at the box score, one might think that the Titans offense completely overwhelmed a very good Seahawks defense on Sunday. However, for most of the game, Seattle was winning the matchup on this side of the ball. The Titans struggled to get much going as the Seahawks’ team speed on defense was too much to handle. Tennessee went 3-and-out on their first 4 drives and ran 43 plays for only 159 yards in the first half, an average of just 3.7 yards per play. 2 of their 3 field goals (They scored 9 points in the first half) were set up by Seattle penalties. Overall, the Titans were having trouble generating consistent offense. That all changed in the 3rd quarter.

The Titans won by using Seattle’s speed and aggressiveness against them. Their first touchdown of the quarter came on a play-action wide-receiver screen. After Marcus Mariota drew the defense offside with a hard count (something he did multiple times Sunday), the play-action to the right got most of the defense aggressively reacting hard to the play-fake side. The fact that Tennessee aligned with 6 offensive linemen also helped sell the run.

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By the time Rishard Matthews caught the ball on the wide receiver screen, the Titans had a numbers advantage with 3 lead blockers out front and a lot of open space.

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55 yards later, Matthews was in the end zone.

On their next drive, the Titans were finally able to get a sustained drive going. A zone read for Mariota and two Derrick Henry runs covered 22 yards. The constant for all 3 of these runs was the presence of a lead blocker out of the backfield. This helped set up Tennessee’s next touchdown.

On this play, the Titans once again aligned with 6 offensive linemen. Tight end Jonnu Smith lined up in the backfield as the lead back. Wide receiver Taywan Taylor began to motion across the formation right before the snap.

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The play action showed a fake hand-off to both the running back and the end around. This sucked Seattle defenders in towards the line of scrimmage, and drew safety Earl Thomas to the left side of the field.

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Tight end Jonnu Smith, who initially looked like a lead blocker, was able to sneak out of the backfield unscathed.

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Because Smith aligned in the backfield, it took him longer to get into his wheel route than if he had been running the route from the slot. This ensured that cornerback Richard Sherman would not be able to recognize the route combination, and instead, would go with the outside receiver running a post right at him.

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With the second level defenders drawn towards the line of scrimmage because of the play action and Sherman occupied by his post route, Smith was wide open for an easy touchdown.

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A 75-yard touchdown run by DeMarco Murray on their next drive completed Tennessee’s big-play 3rd quarter and opened up the game. Once again, Tennessee used 6 offensive linemen on that play.

Give credit to Titans Offensive Coordinator Terry Robiskie. The Titans are not as talented on offense as the Seahawks are on defense. Yet Robiskie made the necessary adjustments during this game to take advantage of what Seattle does well on defense. The Titans are 2-1 as a result.

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