HOUSTON — Over the past two games, rookie quarterback Deshaun Watsonnot only has given the Houston Texans a passing game they haven’t had in a long time, but also has affected the entire team.
Even the head coach.
“Everybody asks me … how does he learn? It’s the same thing for me,” Bill O’Brien said. “How am I learning about coaching him? How is [quarterbacks coach] Sean Ryan learning about coaching him? That’s the type of guy he is. … [He’s] a very fun guy to coach because there’s a lot of good give-and-take in the meeting room.
“I think there’s a definite correlation between good players and good coaches.”
In the past two games, the Texans have scored 90 points — 76 on offense — in a home rout of the Tennessee Titans and a three-point road loss to the New England Patriots.
Watson not only has improved the passing game but also has made the rest of the team better, boosting the Texans’ defense and offensive line. Watson wears defenses down, while his own defense, one of the best in football, is able to rest.
“I think any time that you have a quarterback who performed like he did on Sunday at a pretty high level, it kind of gives everybody a shot in the arm, a little bit of juice, some confidence,” Ryan said.
“He changes the game and gets things moving. Certainly, he did that Sunday, and we have to build on that.”
In 2016, the Texans ran the ball well but struggled through the air with QBs Brock Osweiler and Tom Savage. Watson has played all but nine offensive series for the Texans in 2017. Savage opened the season as the starter but was benched at halftime of the Texans’ Week 1 loss to the Jaguars. And Savage replaced the rookie at the end of Houston’s 57-14 blowout of Tennessee in Week 4.
Watson is averaging 2.46 points per drive (and 5.3 yards per play) compared to the 0.33 points (and 1.6 yards per play) Savage has generated, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The rookie is averaging 7.1 yards per pass attempt to Savage’s 4.8.
“I just know if I get open, he’s going to put the ball in the right spot,” wide receiver Bruce Ellington said. “It just makes my job easier when I know the ball’s going to be right there if I come out and make a move after the catch.”
Against the Titans, the Texans ran read-option plays with Watson, something wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins said he hasn’t run since he was at Clemson, and something that NFL defenses rarely see.
“I feel like a rookie,” Hopkins said with a smile. “You have a guy like Deshaun out there that’s doing things that I haven’t done since I’ve been in college in that offense, just scrambling with a quarterback that can make plays after the play is considered dead. It’s a good feeling just knowing you have a guy that’s going to keep plays continued. A guy like Deshaun, it’s the same offense, but still, we have to do what he does best.”
In addition to opening up the Texans’ offense to new plays and schemes, particularly in the rushing attack, Watson’s legs have proved valuable in the passing game by extending plays. The Texans have never had a quarterback as mobile as Watson, particularly compared to Osweiler and Savage.
Watson put that on full display with his 49-yard touchdown run during Houston’s Week 2 victory in Cincinnati. It was the longest rushing touchdown by a quarterback in franchise history, and it was improvised: Watson escaped the pocket and made a play.
“Anytime that you have a quarterback that has the ability to make plays outside of the pocket, I definitely think that that adds another dimension to your offense that’s hard to defend,” O’Brien said. “Now, teams are going to do different things to keep him in the pocket, and I have a lot of trust and confidence in him that he’ll do a good job in that situation, too. His ability to extend plays has helped us.”
While every play that breaks down doesn’t conclude with Watson scrambling to the end zone, many of them end with completions to receivers who are getting used to improvising their routes when the need arises.
“We all make each other better,” Hopkins said. “Him getting the ball where it needs to be. Just getting the ball to his playmakers. He makes the whole team better, not just me.”