In the days that have passed since Deshaun Watson’s jaw-dropping performance against the Tennessee Titans, it is safe to say that near enough every single media outlet, reporter, or journalist have either lauded Watson as the ‘modern’ Warren Moon that Houston so desperately needed, or at the very least heaped praise on Watson and the Texans.
And let's be honest here, can you blame them? After all, he led Houston to a franchise record 57 points, and he himself tied a rookie record set by HOF'er Fran Tarkenton.
The question remains, how long will this hot streak last? This could be just a flash in the pan, a rookie peak before the tolls of a long and brutal professional season kicks in, or is this genuinely the start of a revolution down in the lone star state in a city that has been starved of sporting success.
What does Watson bring to this offense?
Well, first of all, he brings something that the Texans have lacked since the days of Matt Schaub's brief but impressive 2009/12 Pro Bowl seasons - confidence. Over the last few years since Schaub and coach Kubiak's departures, this offense has been led by a series of sub-par, second-rate QBs, who had all been thrown away by their previous franchises (barring Brock Osweiler but that's a whole other story). In fact, no Texans QB since Schaub has thrown for 3,000+ yards in the regular season - with only Osweiler's ill-fated tenure getting even mildly close at 2,957.
While rumors are ongoing as to whether or not O'Brien even wanted to start Tom Savage in Week 1, with some suggesting this was merely GM Rick Smith's doing, after an error-strewn performance against the Jaguars O'Brien threw Watson in for his first appearance. He hardly rescued the game, but there were positive signs already arising. When Watson took center stage in Week 2, starting his first NFL game he became coach O'Brien's 10th starting QB in what is only his fourth year with the Texans - a league high. However, as I am sure you are aware, this proved the right choice as Watson's Week 1 sparks were certainly substantiated when he led the Texans to a decent victory over the Bengals in Cincinnati.
Since then he has gone from strength to strength, from almost leading the Texans to victory in Foxborough over the Brady led Patriots, to the Week 4 demolition of the Titans, for which he was named AFC Offensive player of the week.
But how has he turned this stale offense into record setters in a matter of weeks? Well, first you must look at his leadership skills. A telltale sign of belief in your QB is in the TD celebrations. Hardly a scientific method I know, but the way your teammates rally - or don't - around their leader can show a great deal. With regards to Watson, he always involves himself in the celebrations, whether that's in the shape of joining in with routines or simply being congratulated by his colleagues. What their body language around him shows is belief, an attitude mirrored by what they have all been saying of the former Clemson QB in recent weeks:
Then there's his ability to open up plays. Unlike his Texan predecessors, Watson is capable of drawing out a play and extending it when it seems dead. Look at their Week 4 performance, when rushed by the defense he has the legs and pocket awareness not to escape out the back, but slide to create enough time to allow his targets to adjust, or to simply spot the rushing gap and exploit it with his impressive speed. While he may not have John Ross-esque straight line speed, over the first few yards he can easily outpace a 300-pound defensive lineman to gain those precious first downs.
This was evident in the post game stats last week, which showed that the Texans offense had been on the field for a total of 39:41, in comparison to the Titans at 20:19. That is exactly what wears out defenses and causes small but expensive errors, such as allowing the likes of Will Fuller V and DeAndre Hopkins to briefly skip your guard.
However, credit for this improvement in possession usage must also be shared with this mismatched O-line, which has taken many, including myself, by surprise and markedly improved on their diabolical Week 1 performance. Despite missing LT Duane Brown and RT Derek Newton - both starters - the line has improved rapidly, beginning in Cincinnati. Since then they have seemed more rugged, played far more as a unit, and allowed Watson the time he has needed to shine.
What question marks remain?
Well, one issue worth watching is the O-line. Yes, as I mentioned they are vastly improved these past few weeks. However, they have so far failed to allow Lamar Miller and this run-heavy offense to really get going, with Miller yet to record 100+ rushing yards in a single game in 2017. And, with tough defenses coming up in the next few weeks such as the Chiefs and Seahawks, they will have to shore up that bit more so they can take the pressure off of Watson, especially against that Seahawks secondary.
But, the most pressing issue is whether or not teams will be able to stop Watson, now they know how Houston plans to use him. With plenty of footage to look back on, showing exactly what has worked for Watson and this Texans offense, a defense like that of Kansas City will be able to prepare far more thoroughly for the threats he specifically poses.
Can Houston make a playoff run?
Ultimately, only time will tell. In a tough division like the AFC South, they face stiff competition from both the Jaguars and the Titans in particular (assuming Tennessee can pick themselves up after last week). Both teams have talented young offenses, and both have potentially effective young defenses to match. And once Indianapolis have Andrew Luck back (assuming he is back this year) who knows what he and TY Hilton can achieve?
On paper, Houston has everything they need to make it out of the division as champions yet again; a young and extremely talented front seven, decent starting secondary, talented group of receivers and a strong variety of runners in the backfield. And now, led by a QB who (thus far) seems to be the franchise QB they have so desperately sought after, if they can continue this confident run and get past the enormous hurdle that the Chiefs pose in Week 5, this team could well make a playoff run.
And let's be honest here, this season has been so unpredictable, you'd be a fool to rule them out.
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