Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) runs the ball in the second half of an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Thursday, Sept. 14, 2017, in Cincinnati.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Spies, disguises, subterfuge and intricate strategies will define this chess match.
Although that might sound like it’s straight out of a James Bond movie or a John le Carre’ spy novel, it’s all about the element of confusion that the New England Patriots’ defense will try to create Sunday against Texans rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson at Gillette Stadium.
Under legendary coach Bill Belichick, the Patriots have never lost to a rookie quarterback at home. They’ve won all eight of those previous matchups.
In their quest to maintain that streak, the Patriots will do everything they can to make Watson doubt what he’s seeing.
Texans (1-1) at Patriots (1-1)
Kickoff: Noon Sunday, Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass.
TV/radio: CBS, DirecTV (Ch. 707), KZDC-AM 1250 & FM 94.5
Line: Patriots by 14, O/U 44½
Series: Patriots lead 8-1.
Last meeting: Patriots won 34-16 on Jan. 14 in AFC divisional playoff game.
They’ll shift around constantly before the snap to make it difficult for the 22-year-old to properly read their personnel and schemes. They might designate one player as a spy to shadow Watson wherever he goes to try to counteract his mobility.
And there will be plenty of blitzing, line stunts and other gambits intended to transform a confident, poised young man into a hesitant, nervous wreck in his second NFL start.
Watson knows the Patriots will attempt to overwhelm him. He hass heard all about how smart the Patriots are, especially Belichick, defensive coordinator Matt Patricia, who has a degree in aeronautical engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and veteran free safety Devin McCourty.
“Throw all types of things at me,” Watson said when asked what he anticipates the Patriots’ defense will do against him. “Different coverages, different schemes, different looks and not try to stay in a base look where we can kind of know what they’re doing. That’s every team, not just the Patriots, that I play against because I’m young.”
“I’m new to the league. I’m a rookie. There’s a lot that I have to see and a lot that I have to experience. I’ll take it one snap at a time and take the opportunity as it comes and experience it.”
It’s an admirable, enlightened attitude for the precocious first-round draft pick from Clemson. Watson will need it as the second-youngest starting quarterback to ever face Belichick as a head coach. In 1993, Belichick was coaching the Cleveland Browns when they played against then-21-year-old Patriots rookie quarterback Drew Bledsoe.
It’s not as if no rookie quarterback has ever defeated one of Belichick’s New England squads.
Belichick is 15-5 overall against rookie quarterbacks since taking over the Patriots. All five of those wins were on the road, though, and were earned by the New York Jets’ Mark Sanchez in 2009, the Browns’ Colt McCoy in 2010, the Seattle Seahawks’ Russell Wilson in 2012 and the Jets’ Geno Smith in 2013.
The Texans are 1-8 all-time against the Patriots, including a pair of playoff losses. The only time they’ve defeated New England was on Jan. 3, 2010 at home when the Patriots had already clinched the division as Brian Hoyer finished the game for Tom Brady.
Going back to 1994, the Patriots have more home victories, including playoff games, than any NFL team with 161 wins. The Green Bay Packers are the closest competitor during that span with 152 wins.
“I would tell you that it’s hard for any quarterback,” Texans coach Bill O’Brien said. “How many times have they lost at Gillette Stadium, to any quarterback? It’s probably pretty good, so that would include not just rookie quarterbacks, but any quarterback. Relative to that, I think that we’re preparing Deshaun.”
Watson is extremely athletic, and he’ll need his speed and elusiveness against a Patriots defense that includes linebacker Dont’a Hightower and cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore and Malcolm Butler.
“A very dangerous quarterback,” Patricia said. “I think he’s a guy who gives them a different approach to the offense. He’s very calm, a real smooth guy. This guy is an experienced guy from the standpoint of he has played in some big games before.
“His ability to move, and his speed and skill set to make tacklers miss and get out into open space, is definitely at a very high level that we’ve got to prepare for. I think the big thing is making sure that we all understand that once the guy does turn into a full-blown runner, we have to make sure that we do a really good job of hustling and getting everybody to the ball because he is difficult to tackle.”
Just ask the Cincinnati Bengals. They were unable to corral Watson in the open field as he broke off an electrifying 49-yard touchdown run during a 13-9 loss last week during his first NFL start.
A former national championship game winner over Alabama and a consensus All-American and Heisman Trophy finalist, Watson has the kind of pedigree that prepares him for a charged atmosphere.
Although Watson has completed just 57.4 percent of his throws for 227 yards, one touchdown and one interception, he’s rushed for 83 yards on seven carries. He ran for a touchdown in the preseason against the Patriots, but completed just 3 of 10 passes for 102 yards against their backups.
“We certainly could see his poise and he’s been in a lot of big games, does a good job at the line of scrimmage,” Belichick said. “I thought Cincinnati gave him some tough looks and he handled those well. Very athletic, throws the ball well, accurate, can make all the throw.
“We have to do a good job of containing him and do a good job of tackling him because he’s a tough guy to get down when he runs. He’s not running to slide. He’s running to gain yardage, so that will be a big challenge.”
What Watson hasn’t seen in his limited NFL experience is a ton of defensive looks that challenge his understanding of what coverage a team is in and how they’re attacking the line of scrimmage to harass him inside the pocket.
Essentially, Watson doesn’t know what he doesn’t know.
“I think any time you’re going against a young quarterback or you’re coaching up a young quarterback, what you really have to emphasize with him is they’re going to hold looks for as long as they can, and at the snap of the ball is really when you have to identify what’s going on, what you’re seeing,” Texans quarterbacks coach Sean Ryan said. “So, it’s all about talking to him about, ‘Look, what they’re showing you pre-snap doesn’t actually mean what’s going to happen after the ball’s snapped.’ You have to be locked into that.
“It comes from film study and then it comes from within the game, seeing what the plan is as you go through the game and getting them up to speed on that in between series. Really, the snap of the ball identification is huge.”
Texans two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Johnathan Joseph has been on the other side of the equation against young quarterbacks. He’s expecting special plans against Watson to account for his speed and moves.
“You’ve got to prepare for his legs,” Joseph said. “I think everybody in the league, obviously, sees that now. I think they’ll stick to their game plan. Other than that, just put a spy or something on him. That’s what I would do if I was a D-coordinator.”
Watson has always been a quick study, and a strong believer in himself.
He was an instant hit as a ninth-grade starter in Gainesville, Georgia, and as a freshman at Clemson.
“I think that when we met him he carried himself very well,” O’Brien said. “When you come into a meeting at the combine with the general manager and the head coach and various other people in the meeting room, it’s a small hotel room. The prospect sits right in the middle of everybody. It’s a tough environment and I thought he handled himself real well.
“I don’t think that confidence for him needs to grow. He’s very confident in his own ability, his own work ethic. Obviously, he doesn’t know what he doesn’t know and he’ll learn. He’ll see things for the first time every time he’s out there: different coverages, different blitzes, different skillsets of different players — and he’ll learn. He’s a very smart guy. He learns very quickly.”
The Texans are averaging just 4.8 yards per passing attempt. They’ve averaging just 104 net passing yards per game.
To an extent, Watson has been limited by his personnel. Against the Bengals, his three top tight ends were out with concussions. He primarily targeted Pro Bowl wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins.
“Absolutely, we do not want to average under five yards per pass attempt,” O’Brien said. “We want to eventually try to get the ball down the field. Obviously, as we move on and he gets more experience, meaning Deshaun, I think that we’ll see more of that.”
It’s imperative that Watson protect the football. He nearly threw two interceptions against the Bengals, but the errant throws were dropped. He had an interception against the Jacksonville Jaguars nullified due to a penalty. He’s already been sacked seven times in six quarters working behind an offensive line still missing three-time Pro Bowl left tackle Duane Brown due to a contract dispute.
Rookie quarterbacks who’ve had more than one turnover against Belichick-coached teams have an 0-10 record.
What Watson has in terms of intangible dwarfs his modest statistics. He’ll lean heavily on his attitude Sunday as he tries to match wits with some of the top defensive minds in the game.
“Confidence is big, not just for me, but for every player,” Watson said. “If you have confidence, then you go out there knowing what you’re doing and you can do it at a fast level and at a high tempo. If you continue to do that and build that confidence, then your potential is very, very high.
“I usually don’t get nervous because football is football. This is what I love to do. It’s no different than playing Little League. More people watching, of course, guys are bigger and faster, smarter, but it’s still football.”
Source : http://www.expressnews.com/sports/pro-sports/article/Texans-Watson-expects-mixed-bag-of-tricks-fro-12223603.php