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.
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.
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.