HOUSTON -- The Houston Texans -- and the rest of the NFL -- found out last season that perhaps the most impressive part of Deshaun Watson’s game was his ability to use his legs to extend plays. Now, coming off ACL surgery, Watson has to be especially smart about doing so, although head coach Bill O'Brien said he is confident in his young quarterback's instincts to protect himself.
In six starts last season, Watson frequently made plays after the pocket collapsed and was a big part of the reason why Houston ranked 14th in the league in rushing; in seven games, Watson ran for 269 yards on 36 carries for 2 touchdowns.
Watson tore the ACL in his right leg during a practice last season on a drill in which he was simply handing the ball off to a running back -- although he told ProFootballTalk this offseason that he thinks he loosened his ACL on a hit he took the Sunday prior against the Seattle Seahawks.
The Texans looked like a totally different team after Watson’s injury, with the less-mobile Tom Savage and T.J. Yates combining to go 1-8 the rest of the season. And while O'Brien has said the team needs to be smart about protecting Watson, who also tore the ACL in his left leg during his freshman year at Clemson, he also knows he can’t change a huge part of Watson’s game out of fear.
Part of the reason why O’Brien and the Texans can feel that way is because the head coach thinks Watson has “a knack for sliding and for ducking out of bounds” before he takes a hit.
“He has a really good instinct for maybe gaining the 5 or 6 yards and then going down before he takes the shot,” O’Brien said. “That’s a big thing that young quarterbacks usually have a problem with. He seems to have an instinct for being able to stay out of harm’s way.”
Although Watson has good instincts to protect his body, O’Brien said the coaching staff has gone over being smart outside the pocket with the 22-year-old.
“You have to have what we call a silent alarm,” O’Brien said. “When you drop back to pass, one thousand-one, one thousand-two, like, if you’re getting into that three-second range in this league and you haven’t thrown the ball yet, I would say that you better start thinking about doing something, because they’re coming.”
While Watson does it well, O’Brien noted how tough it can be to make sure a quarterback gets rid of the ball when it gets to that point in the play because of a desire to make something happen.
“It’s hard [to coach a quarterback out of never giving up on a play],” O’Brien said. “I think, when you look at all these guys are such great competitors -- if you look at [Ben] Roethlisberger and [Carson] Wentz and Andrew Luck, they don’t think that the play is ever over. So they’re going to try to keep the play alive. Same thing with Watson.
"They’re going to try to keep the play alive and they don’t think it’s ever over. They’re the ultimate competitors. So, you just have to talk to them, in my opinion the guys that I’ve dealt with like that, ‘Hey look, here’s the deal.’ Again, going back to I have a clock in my head, and when this clock reaches a certain point with the protection we’ve called, you better either think about taking off, sliding, throwing it away. You don’t need to take an unnecessary shot, but I don’t think it’s easy to coach that with every single guy.”