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Red Zone Play: Is Deshaun Watson the Next Andrew Luck?

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Amazing Monday Night Football game marred by same old problem

Houston Texans v New Orleans Saints Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

Alright, I have to admit I didn’t expect this game to be as close as it was, and I was all but certain the Saints were going to miss the last second field goal. For a team that should have been blown out, this might be the best opening game loss in Texans history.

First off, let’s take a second to celebrate some of the “what went well” from last night’s game:

  1. Whitney Mercilus is back baby! Having moved into his natural role at ROLB, vacated by the fleecing of Jadeveon Clowney, Mercilus seemed rejuvenated, putting forth his best effort since his 2017 injury. Glad you’re back @Merci380, we’ve missed you.
  2. DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller and Kenny Stills are a lethal combination - possibly the best receiver corps in all the land. While Hopkins ended his consecutive receptions without a drop streak - then did it again - and again - he, Fuller and Stills put on a show that got everyone pumped for the fireworks Deshaun Watson was lighting.
  3. Carlos Hyde is the best thing to happen to Houston’s running game since Arian Foster left (even though they should have retired Foster’s number, but that’s another topic). Hyde may not be quite as talented as Lamar Miller or Duke Johnson, but he’s Bill O’Brien’s style of running back, something this team has needed since O’Brien called his first (of millions) A-Gap run.
  4. Never, ever, EVER count Deshaun Watson out of a game. The kid is money in the bank and certainly by far, the best quarterback the Texans have ever had.
  5. Bradley Roby held his own against one of the NFL’s elite wide receivers. While it wasn’t “shutdown corner” time, Roby did far better than Aaron Colvin or [insert cornerback here] not named Jonathan Joseph in his prime. Welcome to H-Town, Roby, hopefully the new general manager can get you some help... the majority of Thomas’s receptions seemed more of Drew Brees exploiting zone holes than Roby not doing his job. Drew Brees is, well, Drew Brees after all.

Now let’s look at the two reasons to panic, (if such a thing needs to happen after only one game).

A. Where did the pass rush go?

Flooding the field with defensive backs against a guy like Drew Brees might seem like a smart move - unless most of your DBs can’t cover, then you’ll need to rely on the pass rush to compliment and create some pressure scenarios. Well... last year, if you remove Jadeveon Clowney and J.J. Watt, the Texans pass rush was almost non-existent. Last night, the Texans sure could have used Clowney. Without him, the defensive front seven generated just one sack. J.J. Watt was non-existent, having what might have been the worst game of his career and if it wasn’t for Mercilus, the defense would have been completely blown out. On 65 plays, the Saints gained 510 yards at 7.8 yards per play. They also gave up first downs on third down plays 64% of the time.

For those keeping track at home, that means the Saints had the 3rd best 3rd down conversion rate in the league in week one.

B. How long can Deshaun Watson survive behind the traffic cones & caution tape?

Last season the Houston Texans offensive line gave up an average of 3.875 sacks per game - fittingly earning the rank of worst line in pro ball. Last night the “rebuilt” line gave up 6 sacks - at this rate, Deshaun Watson will take 96 sacks this season. 158 hits in a year and a half by professional football players is more than most any human can endure. It’s been described as “like being in a car accident.” Imagine being in 158 car accidents in a year and a half...

For comparison, Andrew Luck - who recently retired due to too many hits by opposing defenders - only took 174 sacks in his entire 7 year career. Watson has already taken 87 (exactly half in far less outings) in his 24 games, averaging 3.62 per game. Even at that rate, almost half of what he endured last night, Watson’s sack total will eclipse Luck’s in 48 games. Play that movie forward and Houston has the 2019 and 2020 seasons before they need to start looking for another quarterback. Even though it took them 15 years to find this one.

Adding Laremy Tunsil was a good move, even if Houston gave up too much to get him. He’s a mad upgrade over what they trotted out last year, but he’s still no Duane Brown. Hopefully the Flat H-Town Management System can figure this out quickly and make another trade or two, get Tytus Howard up to speed and give Watson some protection.

Laremy Tunsil

We’re going to watch the film tomorrow and fix our mistakes. How many sacks did we give up today? Six? We’ve got to improve that number. We’ve got to drop that number down a little bit.

It needs to come down a lot more than a little bit, big fella. For reference, Tom Brady has averaged 24.94 sacks per season, which includes his rookie campaign with one game played. Broken down by game, it’s 1.75 sacks per outing. If Bill O’Brien is really trying to emulate the “Patriot Way” (and he used to be their offensive coordinator so he should know this), he better get his mind around the fact that Houston needs a great offensive line - something he hasn’t done in 5+ years.

Bill O’Brien

I thought we did block them at times. We’ve got to block them more consistently...

Thankfully, the Texans are facing the Jaguars next week - you know, the team that just found - and subsequently lost - their franchise quarterback due to one hit. With another week to gel (although Tytus Howard will most likely get reinserted at left guard, causing more inconsistency in the short term), hopefully the Texans o-line can improve rapidly. Or we should all start scouring the college ranks for Watson’s replacement.

What did you think? Give us your highs and lows from week one of Houston football.