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Film Review: Patriots pass rush to blame for Texans QB Deshaun Watson’s big day

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How the Patriots pass rush failed to contain Deshaun Watson on Sunday.

NFL: Houston Texans at New England Patriots Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

I owe an apology to the Houston Texans offense and head coach Bill O’Brien.

No one associated with the Texans even knows I exist, but all last week I roasted O’Brien, and Watson, for what was an awful performance against the Bengals.

O’Brien’s stubbornness in Watson’s first start forced the former Clemson star to play quarterback like Tom Brady, sitting back in the pocket, and reading defenses to find the open receiver.

The Texans, much like the Patriots, run a passing offense that’s core principles are reliant on timing, and option routes that change on a snap to snap basis depending on the coverage.

As you’d imagine, that is a difficult ask for a rookie quarterback making his first career start.

However, O’Brien took the 10 days between the Thursday night debacle against the Bengals, and Sunday’s game against the Pats, to install a variety of new play designs built to incorporate Watson’s ability to run with the football.

Bootlegs, designed QB runs, roll outs, and spread formations that allowed Watson to scramble when plays broke down were all apart of the Texans’ gameplan on Sunday.

So props to O’Brien, who has gotten flack from everyone in the media for his subpar coaching in the past, and to Watson, who was outstanding throughout against the Pats.

The Patriots defense could have done more to slow down the rookie, but you have to give him credit, he flat out made plays, and big time throws.

He looked like a different quarterback. Most importantly he was an accurate passer, which is a far cry from his past (albeit limited) tape in the NFL.

What could the Patriots have done differently against the speedy Watson? Two words: pass rush.

We’ve heard about the Patriots’ approach to mobile quarterbacks in the past, which is to contain them in the pocket, rather than rush them traditionally to get a sack.

However, that strategy went out the window on Sunday against the Texans, as the Patriots defensive line played Watson like he was a pocket passer, and were way too aggressive time and time again. That led to Watson getting outside the pocket, and making big plays downfield after he extended things with his legs.

The Patriots’ secondary didn’t play a flawless game, but most of the Texans’ big pass plays were due to Watson’s ability to extend the play outside the pocket.

You can’t ask any person in coverage to cover receivers consistently for that amount of time. Eventually, the receiver will break free of the coverage.

Below, I will go through several plays where the Patriots pass rush, to its demise, chased Watson around.


Let’s start with a few plays that didn’t burn the Patriots completely, but set the tone for how Watson would eventually do his biggest damage.

Here, is one of the best examples that illustrates perfectly where the Patriots went wrong when rushing Watson. That’s Trey Flowers who eventually comes off his block, and comes screaming at Watson with a full head of steam, rather than holding his position to keep Watson in the pocket.

You can understand why Flowers was eager to try to get a hit on Watson, as he has a free run at the quarterback, and instincts would tell you to go get a sack. However, Watson isn’t a prototypical quarterback. His running skills are extremely advanced to the point where he is basically a running back as well. Watson eludes the over-aggressive Flowers, breaks the tackle, and ends up scrambling for a first down.

Here we go again. This time, it’s Deatrich Wise and Cassius Marsh that come screaming off the edge trying to get to Watson. That, and Adam Butler falls down trying to get upfield with a pass rush move. The pressure off the edge forces Watson to step up, and then he sees the running lane from where Butler is supposed to be. Another escape, and another first down.

These types of runs might not look like much because they don’t go for big gains, but they moved the sticks, and got Watson into a groove doing things that he feels comfortable doing.

Big Pass Plays Off Of Scrambles

Where Watson really burned the Patriots was with big passes off of scrambles.

In fact, the two biggest plays of the game for the Texans were both of this variety.

The first of those two plays was this somewhat lucky heave to tight end Ryan Griffin. Again, the Patriots try to get upfield to rush Watson, as both Trey Flowers (left) and Lawrence Guy (left middle) are too aggressive rushing the passer given Watson’s abilities.

Pay attention to both defensive tackles on this play: Guy and #90 Malcom Brown. Notice how they react to Watson’s movements when he goes to scramble, instead of holding their position to contain him in the pocket.

Watson eventually finds an escape to his left, and also finds Ryan Griffin running free on the backside of the play. Defensive backs never expect a quarterback to throw across the field like that, and even if they do expect it, Watson’s pocket movement extends the play to a point where someone was bound to uncover.

Here’s the same play from above so you can see the routes develop. The Patriots have great initial coverage on the play, but get burned after Watson escapes.

And now the worst of them all. Four Patriots, I repeat four Patriots, try to sack Watson on this play, including two attempts by Malcom Brown. This one speaks for itself. They are chasing Watson, lunging at him, not once, but five times. Yes, it was poor tackling, but more importantly it was undisciplined football.

The birds eye view adds to the frustration. Again, good initial coverage, nobody is open, and watch Trey Flowers who’s supposed to be covering Foreman. He sees Watson escape the pocket and heads right for him, a big no no. That obviously leaves Foreman by himself behind Flowers. Flowers has to force Watson to come to him, commit to the run, and then make the tackle. Can’t go forward.

Finally, this is the completion to DeAndre Hopkins that set up the hail marry. Without it, the Texans don’t get close enough to reach the end zone, and if you don’t think that matters ask the Detroit Lions about hail mary’s (cough, cough Aaron Rodgers). This time, it’s Cassius Marsh and Deatrich Wise that get too aggressive, and Marsh’s rush makes it really easy for Watson to escape.

I feel like a broken record at this point, but it’s good initial coverage again from the Pats, and Gilmore doesn’t lose Hopkins until late in the down.


As I stated earlier, you have to give Watson a lot of credit. He’s a gifted scrambler, one of the best we’ve seen in recent memory, and right up there with Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers in terms of escapability.

However, I highly doubt that the Patriots’ coaching staff was telling the defensive line to rush in that manor, but if they were then that’s a troubling development.

Most likely, the Patriots defensive line ignored the coaching, and just couldn’t help themselves against a weak Texans offensive line.

They read all week about how bad the Texans were at pass blocking, and probably thought they’d have a big day rushing Watson, losing site of his ability to elude would-be tacklers.

Now here’s the bigger problem, Watson is just the start when it comes to quarterbacks that can extend plays.

Although they don’t necessarily do it at Watson’s level, the Patriots have Cam Newton this week, then Jameis Winston, and still have to play Buffalo’s Tyrod Taylor twice later in the season. Tyrod especially is very Watson-like in his movements, and is a gifted runner.

The Patriots will have to coach their defensive line, and then have it translate onto the field, on how to handle these mobile quarterbacks.

Watson may still be a limited passer, but when his legs became a major factor he was extremely difficult to stop.