It’s not uncommon to see football teams turn their seasons around after a quarterback change. What happened to the Houston Texans this season is much more interesting. They turned their season around by asking the SAME quarterback to do LESS.
DeShaun Watson and the Texans visit the New York Jets Saturday (NFL Network, 4:30 p.m. ET) in a game they can’t afford to lose in the AFC playoff chase. Houston (9-4) is comfortably positioned to matter in January because of a big decrease in mistakes from its second-year quarterback.
Watson’s first six games: Watson continually tried to force plays that weren’t there…while taking way too long to make decisions. He was sacked 25 times (4.2 per game), threw seven interceptions (part of a 9/7 TD/INT ratio), and lost two fumbles.
Houston went 3-3 straight up, playing nail biters every week. It might have been 2-4 in the standings if Buffalo’s Nathan Peterman hadn’t thrown the Texans a game-winning touchdown pass (in a game Watson was sacked SEVEN times!). They were a woeful 1-5 against the spread because Watson’s miscues kept the team from playing to reasonable market expectations.
Watson’s last seven games: a completely different quarterback, starting with a road win at Jacksonville. Watson was only sacked 21 times (3.0 per game), only threw 2 interceptions (part of an effective 13/2 TD/INT ratio) and didn’t lose any fumbles.
Houston went 6-1 straight up, and cashed five of seven tickets for sports bettors. Mostly the same players, but a 3-3 disappointment turned into a serious playoff threat because the quarterback played cleaner football.
If you focus on “implosion” plays (sacks, giveaways), Watson dropped from 34 to 23 despite playing an extra game…with the drop in giveaways from 9 to 2 being a huge difference-maker.
That sack count is still too high in terms of Super Bowl aspirations. But, Watson is now much more likely to allow his #3 ranked rushing offense and #5 ranked defense in points allowed to shoulder more of a burden of winning games.
Clearly, the hometown Jets know what they have to do to spring an upset. Pressure Watson into losing his composure! There’s currently not a lot of betting sentiment that it’s likely to happen. New York spent most of the week as a 6.5-point underdog. That means the Jets aren’t seen as a “dangerous dog,” just one that has a chance to keep things interesting. Houston would be about a 9-10 point favorite on a neutral field, about a 12-13 point favorite at home.
Of course, the Jets (4-9, tied for fourth worst in the NFL behind Arizona, San Francisco, and Oakland) have to worry about their own quarterback Sam Darnold imploding against a quality defense. In his 10 starts, Darnold has been sacked 21 times (not so bad), thrown 15 interceptions (poor in a conservative offense, part of an ugly 12/15 TD/INT ratio), and lost only one fumble.
You will likely be handicapping at least one playoff game involving Watson. Take Saturday’s opportunity to evaluate his potential growth into an upper-tier quarterback.