Behind rising star quarterback Deshaun Watson, the Houston Texans shredded the division-rival Titans, 57-14, at home on Sunday afternoon, while scoring the most points in a single game in franchise history. Here’s what we learned from Sunday’s early games:
1. Deshaun Watson was spectacular, and not just because he tied an NFL rookie record with five touchdowns and, for a time, posted a perfect passer rating. Having watched all of Watson’s NFL snaps to this point, Sunday resembled a turning point for me. Watson developed that in-pocket comfort; the rhythmic bounce behind the line that nearly all of the league’s premier passers have. It takes some quarterbacks three years to find it. It took Watson three weeks. What stood out? Watson having barely practiced with Will Fuller, missed him by about 5 yards on a deep shot in the end zone. On his next attempt on a similar route, it was right at Fuller’s chest and drew a significant pass interference penalty. Watson is converting the difficult third-and-8s, with down-and-away throws to his tight end. The velocity on his football is invaluable in the 5-15-yard range. He’s also completely unafraid to take the deep shot.
2. This, by the way, might have been the most fun I’ve seen Texans head coach Bill O’Brien have as a playcaller. In the fourth quarter, before Watson’s fifth touchdown, he dialed up a jet sweep option that set Houston up at the goal line. There is no section of O’Brien’s playbook that is off limits right now. Sometimes, patience pays off. This set of playcalls is almost 2015 Panthers-like, without the power element forcing Watson to carry the ball up the middle.
2a. We mentioned Fuller’s return and, moreso than last year, this could mean something for DeAndre Hopkins. Hopkins was incredible in his own right, with a toe-tap grab that will probably be overlooked on most highlight shows but was one of the single most impressive acts of precision I’ve seen all season. Fuller will still slice a defense open with his deep routes, but he seems to be evolving in the red zone. Diversifying your target list when you’re close to points is never a bad thing.
3. No disrespect to Houston’s defense, but something seemed off about Marcus Mariota from the get-go. He ended his day (6 of 10 for 96 yards, 2 INT, 4 rushes, 39 yards, 2 TD) at halftime with a hamstring injury — a devastating blow to Mike Mularkey’s offense. Mariota was shoving passes into bracketed coverage. For the better part of 30 minutes, he was all but inviting Houston to bait him into leaving the pocket. Tennessee is smart to have rested him Sunday in the second half. Despite Houston’s significant point total, a loss still counts the same and having Mariota healthy a week from now still matters more.
— Conor Orr