With each passing week of Houston Texans football, the legend of Deshaun Watson grows, and the whole concept of Tom Savage as the Texans' starter to begin the season becomes stranger, but thankfully less relevant. Because in the end, by removing Savage at halftime of Week 1, Texans head coach Bill O'Brien got it right, and that is proven more and more with each passing week.
All Watson did this week was lead a Texans team that was a three-point underdog at home to five straight scoring drives to begin the game in a 57-14 bloodletting of the Tennessee Titans. A game that was being hailed as a potential passing of the AFC South torch to Nashville became a full rebirth of Houston's 2017 playoff hopes, and in the bigger picture, the first truly dominant performance of a quarterback that Texan fans expect to have many, many more from.
In the box score, Watson was 25 of 34 for 283 yards with four touchdown passes, a touchdown run, and one interception. His ESPN QBR on the day was a nearly perfect 98.3. Watson was simply sublime, and in three short weeks, he has willed this franchise from the edge of suicide prevention to legitimate hope that they can knock off undefeated Kansas City next Sunday night.
That he does it with a smooth confidence and self assuredness makes it that much more enjoyable. To wit...
This is getting fun. Let's get to the winners and losers on the afternoon...
4. Will Fuller
After missing the first three games of the regular season, Fuller returned from the broken clavicle injury that he suffered in training camp in early August. Since we had seen virtually none of him since the end of last season, people were wondering how much improvement Fuller had made from his rookie year to his sophomore season, particularly with his hands. The early returns are very positive with Fuller catching four passes, including two red zone touchdowns. Equally important was a 45-yard pass interference penalty to set up the fourth Texans touchdown of the day (Side Bar: How cool is it to say "Texans fourth touchdown of the day"?), a play that showed that Fuller's mere presence is going to force defenses into mistakes and tough decisions.
3. "Dylach Coleingham"
So, anybody missing Brian Cushing? Maybe it's me, but the defense seems to be getting along just fine without their veteran inside linebacker (and resident PED test failure), and they're getting by thanks to the astute, productive play of rookie inside linebackers Zach Cunningham and Dylan Cole. Both have very different pedigrees, with Cunningham a privileged second-round pick and Cole an undrafted free agent, but both have more than picked up the slack. Last week, Cunningham was the team's leading tackler and on Sunday Cole scored his first career touchdown on a pick six of Matt Cassel.
So if the oddsmakers had been correct yesterday, next Sunday night's game between the Texans and the Kansas City Chiefs would have had the current best team in football taking on a reeling 1-3 home team. Not very sexy. Now, with Sunday's win, the Texans are a hot team with a hot rookie quarterback taking on the Chiefs who are led by a hot rookie running back (Kareem Hunt). A whole lot of HOTNESS! By the way, who will be the Texans player used in the promo graphic? Are J.J. Watt's days as the Texans' default graphic over? (Stuff like this intrigues the hell out of me.)
UPDATE: The answer is that NBC will use both Watson AND Watt!
So here is how the NBC graphics folks are handling a world where JJ has a teammate with equal star power ... pic.twitter.com/mk4yF5ngUd— Sean Pendergast (@SeanTPendergast) October 2, 2017
1. Bill O'Brien
After three years of hearing about how complex O'Brien's system is, and having it feel about ten times as complex as advertised because of the band of donkeys disguised as quarterbacks marched through NRG Stadium, O'Brien has had the three best weeks of his head coaching career as a play caller and playbook architect. Rather than putting a regulator on Watson, O'Brien has decided to think more spatially as an offensive coordinator and take advantage of the attributes that make Watson great, namely his athleticism and intelligence. As a result, in just the first 12 minutes of Sunday's game, we saw a pistol option for a touchdown, multiple roll out throws, and a quarterback draw.
My biggest concern, if I were O'Brien, would obviously be keeping Watson healthy, but taking that concern to the next level, now that the playbook has so many beneficial, Watson-centric wrinkles, I'd want a backup whose style mirrors Watson's. (The brief glimpse we got of Tom Savage yesterday was not a tasty thing. Also, the Titans suffered from this after Cassel replaced the athletic Mariota yesterday.)
The Texans will never do this, because the vibes are so positive right now, and I'm guessing there might be political backlash, but now that O'Brien's system has evolved into a mobile-friendly machine, they should sign Colin Kaepernick to back up Deshaun Watson. If they want to keep Savage as the third stringer, fine. But clearly this offense, with an offensive line that still needs to be hidden sometimes, thrives with the mobile QB elements Watson brings to the table. (And let the record reflect, I am someone who thinks people should stand for the national anthem.)
.@deshaunwatson is the 3rd rookie QB with 4+ pass TD and 1+ rush TD in a game since 1950 (1961 Fran Tarkenton & 1960 Johnny Green)— NFL Research (@NFLResearch) October 1, 2017
4. Braxton Miller
The inactive list this week had a bombshell on it, and it was wide receiver Braxton Miller being a healthy scratch for Sunday afternoon. Miller has struggled for virtually his entire NFL career thus far. This season he has had issues with his hands and, frankly, with just getting open, There have been some, in the media and just in general, who make the excuse that Miller is "still learning the wide receiver position." This, of course, ignores that he is now in his third season playing the position, one at Ohio State and two now with the Texans. This isn't studying to be a cardiologist. The fact is Miller might be the next Texans third round pick to be labeled "BUST."
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3. Marcus Mariota
In his third season, Marcus Mariota is supposed to be progressing to the upper tier of NFL franchise quarterbacks, and he certainly has moments where it looks like that's where he's headed. However, in the one half of football he did play on Sunday, he threw two picks and looked very one dimensional, only hurting the Texans with a couple of touchdown runs. He's always had accuracy issues, and right now is closer to being an Achilles heel for his team's offense than an elite focal point. Add in the issues staying healthy, which reared their head on Sunday with a hamstring injury, and I'd be concerned about giving him $25 million per year someday, if I were a Titans fan.
2. Duane Brown
We will ask this question every week until he surfaces in an NFL stadium —- what do we think Duane Brown is thinking right now? Certainly, the past two weeks have swallowed any leverage created by the horrific line play of the first two weeks of the season. Beyond that, how do Texan fans feel? After the Texans beat the Bengals in Week 2, my hope was the two sides would find accord and continue the "good news" momentum. Now, after yesterday, I feel like hearing that Brown has been moved for, say, a second round pick would bring just as positive a vibe as news of his return would bring.
1. The state of Tennessee
Saturday night, the Tennessee Vols lost a home game to division rival Georgia by 41 points. Who knew their NFL team would lose a game to a division rival by 43 points on Sunday? Poor Tennessee.
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