By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
If the Patriots’ third preseason game showed anything that you could potentially learn about the 2018 version of the team, it’s that the defense could still be susceptible to quarterbacks who can make plays both through the air and on the ground.
Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson presents such a threat right in the door, as the Pats get ready to take on Houston on Sunday to kick off the 2018 season at Gillette Stadium. The sophomore signal-caller does enter the season with some uncertainty, after a torn ACL cut his excellent rookie season short. But what he did before that, including against the Patriots in Week 3 last season, was nothing short of electric.
Watson threw an outrageous 19 touchdown passes in seven games, a 43-score pace. He posted a 103.0 passer rating, which if it held up over the season would’ve edged out Tom Brady for third-best in the NFL. He also made plenty of plays as a runner, averaging 7.5 yards per carry with two rushing touchdowns.
In his six starts, Watson averaged 308.3 combined passing and rushing yards and 3.3 total touchdowns per game. If he can prove his abbreviated rookie campaign was no fluke, he could be on the way to becoming one of the league’s most dynamic weapons.
That could be a serious problem for the Patriots defense on Sunday. They didn’t look quite prepared for this type of quarterback based on their performance in the third preseason game against Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers. The Patriots’ edge rushers routinely lost contain against Newton, allowing him to escape the pocket even on the plays where they were able to generate pressure. And when Newton was able to throw, he picked on Stephon Gilmore of all people.
To be fair, that could just be a Panthers problem and not necessarily the same issue they’ll have against Watson and the Texans. Also, it’s important not to read too much into the preseason. But Watson is certainly a dual threat kind of quarterback, and if he’s at his best on Sunday, the Patriots will need all three levels working together to keep him and the Houston offense contained.
Tip of the cap to NESN’s Zack Cox, who captured an interesting drill on video during Wednesday’s practice. Below is rookie cornerback Keion Crossen mimicking Watson’s movement in the pocket, while the Patriots’ front-seven gives chase:
The Patriots had trouble corralling Deshaun Watson last year. Here’s the first drill their D-linemen ran today, with CB Keion Crossen playing the role of Watson. pic.twitter.com/gS1Unj0ZjV— Zack Cox (@ZackCoxNESN) September 4, 2018
The Patriots obviously like Crossen’s athleticism and quickness. This drill looks like an ancillary benefit of the rookie’s skill set. It’s also an indication of the unique and creative ways that Belichick and the Patriots are working toward preparing for Watson’s rare abilities.
Belichick is certainly hoping that he can have more success against Watson than last time out, when the quarterback threw for 301 yards and two touchdowns, adding eight rushes for 41 yards. It took literally one of Tom Brady’s best games ever (378 yards, five touchdowns) to overcome the Texans that day.
But it’s fair to note that even in making a wealth of highlight plays, Watson’s ball security and accuracy weren’t the best in his rookie season. He threw two interceptions against the Patriots and eight in his seven games, and only completed 61.8 percent of all his passes.
But he was 22-of-33 (66.7 percent) in Foxboro. So until he shows otherwise, Watson should be treated as a supreme threat with both his arm and his legs. The Patriots are certainly acting accordingly.
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at email@example.com.