*Pre-editor post (forgive any typos)
I did something I rarely do when re-watching a game – I watched the ‘all-22’ (aerial video version of all 22 players) for most of it. Typically, I hop play to play or hit sections or drives looking at ‘all-22’ views along with live views, but rarely do I go exclusively ‘all-22’ for near a whole game re-watch. The reason I got caught up in the ‘all-22’ more here was that I wanted to see different vantage points on what happened with Deshaun Watson here.
I theorized this past week that this game was going to foretell the entire Texans’ franchise’s future potentially. Would Bill Belichick, with six months to prepare, figure out the best way to stop Watson’s ‘spread’ offense? Watson is not a very good traditional QB prospect, in my book, but watching him run a pure spread turns him into something more magical. The Texans are the only team that really runs a ‘pure spread’ in the NFL. In 2017 it confused defenses mightily right away…and then as Watson played more games, the turnovers rose and the cracks in the ceiling started to show – but then Watson got hurt and we don’t know how this would have played out with more weeks. Was Watson about to win the MVP last season…or get figured out? Watson’s 2017 ended on that cliffhanger. Week 1 of 2018 was the next chapter of the story. Belichick v. Watson/the spread. Who would win?
My theory was -- if Belichick stomped out Watson, it means he figured something out and now just put the template out there for everyone else. If Watson rolled right through Belichick…it means no one, potentially, was going to figure out how to stop the spread in the NFL for years. If Belichick can’t figure it out with 4-6 months to prepare, who could?
Watson completed 50.0% of his passes, threw for 1 TD and 1 INT…generally, he didn’t look good in this game.
As I watched this from the ‘all-22’ vantage point, I was re-amazed at how hard it is to complete a pass in the NFL…at least, how hard it was to complete a pass in this game. I was ready to mock and taunt Deshaun Watson, but I can’t. From my view…this wasn’t his fault, per se. There was literally no one open in this game for the first half…for either team.
Here’s the cliff note version of this game:
The Texans would send 3-4-5 receivers out for a pass, pretty much the same tired routes and every one of them was covered like glue. Same for the Patriots, except you flip some passes to covered Gronk and he makes miracles happen.
The teams started to wear down into the 2nd-half and some receivers start punching open from coverage. The Patriots play off the receivers more as they try to contain a 21-6 lead.
If it wasn’t for occasional soft zones/prevent-ish looks and minor dump passes and Gronk being a miracle worker, I’m not sure a regular downfield pass could be completed in this game. Nothing was ever open. These two teams were amazing in coverage. The Patriots especially.
Brady sees the field better than Watson, doesn’t panic as much, and finds small window throws better than Watson. That part is obvious without watching the tape. Watson is jumpy and limited when nothing avails itself quickly and the pressure mounts from the D-Line. But when Watson did have time and he stood in the pocket like a champ and found the proper receiver. He misfired several times because he’s not a great passer, but his instincts were good and when he gets the quick-hitter spread in rhythm, watch out!
I gained a lot of respect for Watson in this terribly difficult game. I don’t blame him for the loss/weak stats hardly at all. When you have no one open – what can you do? When he tries to smartly force a pass in or put it where only the receiver can get it…and they don’t, it’s easy to get up in arms at the QB – but much of the time it was that the receivers weren’t close to open. This happened late in the Chicago-Packers game to Trubisky as well. The Texans (and the Bears Sunday night) bunched three WRs together a lot and tried to jail break them off the snap to create confusion…the Patriots glued to every one of them. The Bears, seemingly, ran the same exact plays with the same exact results on their final drive Sunday night. Three bunched WRs looks cool pre-snap, post snap…what does it matter if the DBs just glue to the WRs for their entire route?
I’m not going to denigrate Watson anymore. He is what he is…a limited pocket passer but way above-average running the spread. Cover his receivers and put pressure on Watson, he’s in trouble…but might scramble and make gold (QBs scrambling into broken plays/routes are gold). Let Watson sit in the pocket with no pressure throwing quick hitters…you’re dead. The defense is going to dictate how good or bad Watson is week-to-week. You’ll get highs and lows with him in fantasy. This was a low week. Credit the Patriots, but I’m not sure NE figured out anything…more they figured out they have a really good covering back-seven.
Fantasy Player Notes…
-- Watson’s value for fantasy from here? QB1 in a 4pts per pass TD league for sure. Probably QB1 in 6pts as well. Going to be a lot of 250 +/- yard games with 1-2 TD passes and you hope he runs for 40+ yards and a TD.
-- Spent a lot of time on Watson, but don’t bury the biggest lead/opportunity, potentially – the Patriots defense. They shutdown one of the toughest/most confusing offenses to contain. They looked good doing it. Eric Rowe is coming on. The D-Line has depth to rotate. Stephon Gilmore was really good here. They have some depth at linebacker.
They also have Cordarrelle Patterson returning kicks as a DST bonus.
The also play in the worst division in football as a schedule bonus.
Bortles-Stafford-Tannehill-Luck the next 4 weeks…that’s 4 green lights.
Week 6 vs. KC…I wouldn’t want to go vs. KC, but Belichick might.
Week 7 at CHI could be dicey, maybe.
Week 8 Buffalo is a gift.
Week 9 vs. Aaron Rodgers is a no-go.
Weeks 10-14: TEN-BYE-NYJ-MIN-MIA
Don’t want them Week 15 vs. PIT, per se. Do want them Week 16 vs. BUF.
This Patriots defense may be better just based on Matt Patricia not being there anymore…an upgrade by subtraction. Honestly, besides Week 9 vs. GB…I’d be OK running the Pats all the way through…even vs. KC and PIT.
I asked the computer the best ‘pairings’ with the Pats D, worrying about Weeks 6-7-9-11-15 – it said ‘Dallas’ and ‘Atlanta’. FYI
The Patriots might be ‘that D’ that gets us home this year.
-- On my apology tour of this game, I have to apologize for dissing Phillip Dorsett (7-66-01/7) so hard. Watching him in the ‘all-22’, he was the one WR who was actually getting open via his talent and sharp routes for the Patriots. He played aggressive and confident. I’d not seen that from him before. I missed. I bet against it. I was wrong.
-- Cordarrelle Patterson (3-13-0, 1-6-0/1) had 3 less targets than James Devlin and as many as Riley McCarron (cut after the game). I don’t think he’s taking over for Dorsett anytime soon. Three carries are nice but I wanted to see some passing game action, didn’t get it.
-- Pats rookie ILB Ja’Whaun Bentley (7 tackles, 1 TFL) played 51 snaps (69%) and Elandon Roberts (5 tackles, 0.5 TFLs) played 20 snaps (27%) – and that answers who the Patriots favor…even though Roberts played his butt off when in. I don’t get it, but linebackers who make plays don’t see to be as in demand as slow, grinder LBs. Bentley is the guy, you have to assume.
-- Speaking of linebacker mysteries…Dylan Cole (5 tackles) played 33 snaps (44%) and did some nice work second half covering receivers out of the backfield and with Gronk. It’s only a matter of time before Cole is starting…you can see it coming. Bill O’Brien sees it too…he’s said as much in recent praise of Cole.
Dylan Cole starting for Houston…he’ll be top 3 in the league in tackles, be an IDP star, and make the Pro Bowl. Mark it down.
-- Texans rookie TE Jordan Akins (2-11-0/2) caught the first pass of the season for Houston…a rookie TE not thought to be ‘the starter’. Akins played 50% of the snaps and is a better fit in the spread passing game. He may be approaching some deep sleeper vibes for the TE desperate.
-- Rex Burkhead (18-69-0, 1-5-0/3) cannot carry the load for the Patriots, he’s not that talented. Jeremy Hill is done with ACL. James White is not good for more than 5 or so carries. Sony Michel is going to be the man. It’s just setting up that way. He may be the 1st-2nd-down man but he’s going to be ‘the guy’…by attrition. It may be Week 2…or Weeks 3-4, but it’s coming.
-- The Houston Texans DST has no shame here either. Held the Pats to two FGs in the 2nd-half. On ‘all-22’ they were glued to the Pats receivers too…it’s just that Gronk is from another planet where they catch footballs with two people draped all over them like it is playtime.
Snap Counts of Interest…
38 = Burkhead
36 = White
68 = Hogan
57 = Dorsett
16 = C Patt
74 = Eric Rowe (100%)
51 = J Bentley
20 = E Roberts
40 = Danny Shelton
31 = Malcolm Brown
74 = DeAndre Hopkins
65 = Bruce Ellington
37 = Vyncint Smith (wow)
06 = Sammie Coates
57 = McKinney
47 = Cunningham
33 = Cole