Deshaun Watson is the key to less sacks for the Houston Texans

DENVER, CO - NOVEMBER 04: Quarterback Deshaun Watson #4 of the Houston Texans plays the Denver Broncos at Broncos Stadium at Mile High on November 4, 2018 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
DENVER, CO - NOVEMBER 04: Quarterback Deshaun Watson #4 of the Houston Texans plays the Denver Broncos at Broncos Stadium at Mile High on November 4, 2018 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images) /

Deshaun Watson was sacked more than any other quarterback in 2018. The Houston Texans offensive line has had its fair share of issues, but his quick decision making could prove to be his best protection against any defense.

There are a few reasons as to why Deshaun Watson has been used in the same sentence as David Carr. At least, about the number of times, they have been sacked. Any time a quarterback gets sacked, the five men in front of him are going to be brought into the spotlight. The Texans have taken steps to remedy that situation recently. Watson’s decision-making and his propensity for holding onto the ball have been a cause for concern. Although another part of the blame can be attributed to head coach Bill O’Brien and his play calling.

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Those three factors can improve to protect the signal-caller. In the loss to New Orleans, the offensive line struggled to protect Watson. The Saints hit the quarterback 11 times and recorded six sacks. The team had only been working together for a week after trading for Tunsil, and communication seemed to be a big issue. Four-man rushes and stunts left the line confused and didn’t give Watson much time at all to find the open man. On play action, Watson was often met immediately by a defender which disrupted timing.

However, the line looked much improved and cohesive against the Jacksonville Jaguars. They allowed three sacks and seven hits on Watson. One of the three sacks occurred when Watson scrambled out of the bounds at the line of scrimmage at the 2:47 mark in the 2nd quarter, and Ronnie Harrison was the closest defender. The offensive line gave Watson a clean pocket and time to throw most of the game.

Being critical of play calling is an interesting topic that everyone can participate in. Having never been a part of putting together a playbook or preparing for a game, its hard to know what exactly the goal is at times. Something that stands out to you as a fan as being a poor choice may just be because you don’t see the whole picture. However, certain things stand out when you go back and watch the tape.

Near the 3:11 mark in the first quarter, the Texans were lined up in 11 personnel with Deandre Hopkins lined up to the left of Watson in the slot. Hopkins was lined up inside of Kenny Stills. At the snap, Watson faked to the running back drawing in the linebackers and Hopkins was immediately open. However, Hopkins was not looking for the ball and ran down the seam towards the end zone with Stills running a deep in route. Watson waited for the play to develop, but the pocket collapsed and he eventually had to throw the ball away.

Observing him play, Watson is often left waiting too long on developing plays that do not come open in time for him to find a receiver. It also puts the offensive line in a tough position having to block for longer. It could be that Hopkins was running an option route and saw something else open that the team had been working. However, had he been able to take advantage of the opening in the middle of the field, perhaps the team doesn’t settle for a field goal.

Watson is in charge of adjusting on the fly based on whatever he sees happening on the field. It is his responsibility to change plays based on the coverage the defense is showing or adjusting protection if he sees a certain blitz.

In the second quarter on a third-down play, Watson motioned Hopkins to the left side of the field. This left cornerback DJ Hayden on the right side of the field, who would be left unblocked sack Watson on the play. Despite watching Jarrod Wilson trail Hopkins on the play indicating man to man coverage, it didn’t appear that Watson made any protection shift.

Watson looked over at Hayden at the snap of the ball and then turned to the left side of the field. This caused Watson to miss Will Fuller coming open on a slant just behind the space vacated by the blitzing cornerback. This was a situation where Watson had to help out his offensive line by either calling a shift in protection or getting rid of the ball quick.

In his short career, Watson has been able to connect with receivers deep down the field for big plays. Part of what could help with him reducing those hits is checking down underneath whenever the defense dictates. On the play that Harrison was credited a sack, Cullen Gillaspia was open underneath after chipping the defensive end. Watson had his eyes fixed downfield and never saw Gillaspia open.

While this play didn’t result in Watson taking a hit, it didn’t result in a positive gain. Dumping it underneath for short gains will help keep the offense on the field and keep the defense honest allowing for more openings down the field.

None of this is to say that Watson is solely to blame or isn’t doing a good job. If anything, the scrutiny comes because he is doing a good job. Watson set the league on fire as a rookie and the next step in his progression is learning to settle for the easy play. Especially if it means a healthy future for him.

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The season is just getting started and the offensive line seems to be getting settled in front of Watson. Part of this is probably Watson getting used to having time to read the defense. After some film study, he’ll likely be kicking himself for little mistakes and continue working with his head coach and the offensive line to keep him on his feet.