Whether you are still holding out hope that the Texans fire Bill O’Brien or not, the Houston Texans are knee-deep in the playoff race with seven games left in the season. The crazy thing about this season - and the rationale behind teams going from worst to first - is that the Texans only play one more team the entire season that currently has a winning record. That team, the Washington Redskins, just placed three players on IR last week.
The road to the AFC South goes through Houston. The Texans are home for the remaining three divisional games on the schedule. Four of Houston’s last seven games are at home and the combined record of their opponents is 24-33-1.
Although the schedule looks fortuitous, the Texans would not be in their positive current situation without star quarterback Deshaun Watson. Last week’s victory over Denver marked the 16th game that Deshaun has played in, which is enough for us to summarize his performance over the last two years, albeit combined into one season.
Through his first sixteen games in the NFL, Watson has completed 311 passes for 4,088 yards and 36 touchdowns while throwing 15 interceptions. He has a 9-7 record. His TD to INT ratio is 2.4, and he has an overall Passer Rating of 101.7. Since the moment Watson suited up for the Texans, he has elevated the level of play for Houston’s offense to heights that we have not ever thought possible with past quarterbacks at the helm.
DW4 has thrown a touchdown in all but one of his games... and in that game, the first start of his NFL career (against the Bengals on Thursday Night Football), he had a 49 yard rushing touchdown. The hot-streak that Watson began his career on was capped off with a fou touchdown game against the Seahawks as he passed Kurt Warner for the most passing touchdowns in league history over seven games. Rookie QB Patrick Mahomes tied Watson’s mark this past year, but that does not reduce the impressiveness of Watson’s feat.
The mix of blunt force trauma doled out by Lamar Miller and Alfred Blue, oddly effective tunnel screens, and mid-range darts by Watson have the Texans’ offense humming on balance during the 16 games that featured Watson
For those who love to draw a comparison to Russell Wilson, the Seahawks’ QB threw 252 passes for 3,118 yards and 26 touchdowns with 10 interceptions in his first season. Wilson also led the Seahawks to the NFC Divisional Round before a close loss to the Falcons.
There are several noticeable differences in Watson’s game from 2017 to 2018. Namely, Watson’s willingness and effectiveness running the ball. It’s unfortunate that the era of Watson mesmerizing fans with long runs is most likely over after he tore his ACL in 2017. This season, he is averaging 5.72 yards per carry; last year, he averaged 7.47 yards per carry. Those 1.75 yards per carry that we are missing might have been crucial in remedying the Texans’ red zone mishaps that costed them dearly in the first couple of games.
In both the run and pass game, Watson has been more tentative in his decision-making. Comparing 2017 to 2018, there is an inherent difference in what Watson is excelling at in the passing game. NextGen Stats can provide us a visualization of the changes.
2017 Deshaun Watson:
2018 Deshaun Watson:
Notice the difference in 20+ yard passes this season? Watson currently hovers above the league average when throwing the ball downfield, when just last year he was taking the top off of opponent’s defense with absurd deep balls. Consequently, his overall mid-range throws are more effective that last year. From 0-20 yards, Watson has improved in four of six passing areas. Check-downs and dump-offs have become a normality in the Texans’ offense as Watson is less comfortable driving the ball deep into the secondary.
The Texans have enough weapons on the current roster to break down defenses at any level of the field. I am not worried about Watson taking as many risks, especially with Will Fuller out for the season, but it does limit the dynamic plays Houston’s offense can put together as the safeties do not have to worry about covering the entire field. More space between the safeties and the line of scrimmage means less available room for DeAndre Hopkins to maliciously attack the underbelly of opposing defensive zones.
Look at Hopkins’ route chart in the game against the Broncos. Not a single route beyond 20 yards.
If Watson cannot deliver the ball downfield to his best receiver, it could definitely slowly limit his route tree - if it hasn’t already.
The caveat to the doubt and limits that Watson is gravitating towards is the undeniable win streak and continued record-breaking performances. Week after week, Watson is putting up numbers Tom Savage’s agent could only dream about. Missing Fuller in this offense hurts. I’d love if the Texans had added someone who can run a 4.3 40 yard dash to run wind sprints up the sideline purely to stretch the field with zero intention of throwing him the ball. Anything to spread out the defense just a little bit.
Even with a putrid offensive line, mediocre play-calling, and multiple injuries to his top pass catching targets, Watson has put together a first 16 games of his career that rivals the best to play the game. Being associated with Dan Marino, Kurt Warner, and other Hall of Fame quarterbacks is a feat that many never expected out of Watson, at least not this quickly. But here we are. Has it been pretty all the time? Hell no. Watson’s decision-making and inconsistency vary on a play-by-play basis, but in the end he makes significantly more big plays that turnovers. I can live with that any day.