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Film Study – Deshaun Watson vs Titans

Deshaun Watson has vastly surpassed expectations in back-to-back weeks against veteran defensive coaches. In week 3, despite losing to a late Tom Brady comeback, the Watson led Houston Texans piled up 426 yards on the Bill Belichick coached New England Patriots. Watson was exceptional in only his 2nd career start and showed at 21 years old that like during his time in College – the lights are never too bright for him. Watson went 12th overall in the 2017 NFL Draft behind Patrick Mahomes (10th) and Mitchell Trubisky (2nd). While both of those are yet to see the field, Watson has thrived under centre and put on his most impressive performance to date against a Dick LeBeau coached Tennessee Titans defense. Below is a look at some areas where Watson has pleasantly surprised and others where he still needs to improve. Remember – the tape don’t lie and find those safeties!

He’s looked extremely comfortable operating from the pocket

One of the knocks on Deshaun Watson coming out of College was that he would not be able to operate effectively from the pocket right away. While no one doubted his athleticism and ability to create plays on the ground – just look at his 49-yard TD run against the Bengals in his first start, week 2 – many questioned whether Watson would be able to stand back in the pocket and carve up NFL defenses as a legitimate pocket passer. Yes it is incredibly early in his career but Watson appears to have put the hours in this past offseason and has shown maturity and poise in the pocket, years above his rookie status. Below is a big play, early in the Titans game which really impressed me. The film study is beneath each photo.

The very FIRST THING a quarterback should do when they line up is FIND THE SAFETIES! Here we can see that the Titans are showing a Cover-1 look leaving only the free safety as a center fielder. Unless they’re playing something really exotic, the Titans are playing either cover-1 man or cover 3. The Texans are going to run play action and Watson knows that the way to beat cover-1 is to find the mis-match, WR Bruce Ellington (orange circle) lined up against the strong safety or up the seams against cover-3; again Ellington (yellow arrow) is running a simple go up the middle.

Watson initially looks towards Hopkins (first read) but quickly see’s that the Titans have dropped into zone and that his first read is taken away. He also tilts his head the tiniest fraction to the left and feels pressure coming from his blind side. Like a poised veteran in the pocket he quickly moves up and slides left (black arrow) in the pocket before progressing to his 2nd and 3rd reads.

Watson now has a clean pocket to work from (orange box) and starts to scan the field. He see’s that the strong safety is about to break on his 3rd read meaning an interception could be likely if the ball does not have the necessary zip on it. Watson would also be throwing from the opposite hash mark (the longest throw on the field) which greatly increases the chance of a turnover as the ball has longer to travel. He does however, see that Ellington (2) has found a hole between the three deep safeties up the seam.

This is an excellent throw from the rookie who not only steps up and into the throw but also gets his footwork spot on with his forward knee facing where he wants the ball delivered to. The eyes match the feet and Watson throws a strike downfield for a big 35-yard pick up. This was only 90 seconds into the game and set the tone all day as Watson excelled both from the pocket and on the run. The eyes were in unison on this one.

There were a lot of other examples which I could have drawn up here where Watson was able to scan the field, go through his progressions and refused to be flustered in the pocket. What most impressed me about the rookie was his awareness in the pocket and veteran tell tale signs like tiny glances to the side as he felt where the pressure was coming from – clearly advanced stuff from a rookie QB. Watson has played above expectation in his first 3 starts and has quickly built chemistry with his receivers. However, it’s not all flawless for Watson and at times we are reminded that he is still a rookie and thus susceptible to making easily rectifiable mistakes.

Has a tendency to lock onto his primary read and not scan the field

1st & 10 with 29 seconds left in the first half, Watson misses a wide open Hopkins on a blown coverage. Again, find the safeties (both backed up giving a cover-2 look) – Watson spots them but gets fixated on WR Bruce Ellington (purple) running the post route and believing that this should beat Cover 2 down the middle.

Watson ends up locking onto Ellington too long to realise that the safety has not moved, thus leaving Hopkins to run right by the corner in the flat. Hopkins even puts his arm up to indicate that he is wide open on a blown coverage.

Even as Watson begins to scramble as the alarm clock goes off in his head telling him he’s stayed still too long (advanced stuff) he fails to survey the field and see a wide open Hopkins. Even though this did not matter in the grand scheme of things, in a closer game – this would have been a huge missed opportunity. Particularly given whats happens next.

Lazy footwork leads to an interception on the very next play

The safeties (yep, it always starts with finding them) begin to bail out as the ball is snapped, a clear tell tale sign that instead of giving a Cover-0 look, the Titans are in fact playing cover-2 again.

As Watson takes the snap he works through his progressions from left to right and diagnoses that the Titans are playing zone and that his TE Ryan Griffin should uncover in the middle for a big play. Watson’s excellent pocket presence again shows up as he feels the heat coming from his blind side and works his way back in the pocket (black arrow) before again casting his eyes up field.

As Watson again surveys the field he spots a wide open Hopkins (red circle) with his arm raised as the Titans have blown cover-2 coverage for a second consecutive play. Watson likely gets greedy here believing he has an easy TD and fails to step up into his throw.

As the ball is released, Watson is throwing off his back foot despite excellent protection and time in the pocket. His forward knee is also facing the opposite way to where he wants the ball to go, thus not stepping into his throw and failing to achieve the necessary power or velocity to drill the ball between coverage.The resulting interception was a result of lazy footwork, however, this is an area which all rookies struggle with early in their career. The majority of college QBs taking snaps out of the shotgun does not help their development as pocket passers… A missed opportunity due to poor footwork.

While I only broke down one good example compared to two negative ones, don’t let this fool you. Rookie QB Deshaun Watson has looked every bit a future franchise QB and with offensive minded Head Coach Bill O’Brien in Houston to help develop the talented young signal caller, the future could be very bright for the promising rookie. If you would like me to break down any other players in a film study like the above, tweet suggestions @TomLikeNFL.

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