There’s a vivid memory of last season that probably lingers and stings in the minds of the Tennessee Titans defense.
Of all the teams crushed by the Deshaun Watson wave, no team suffered more catastrophically than the Titans. The then-rookie quarterback hung up 57 points on an otherwise respectable defense. He completed 25-of-34 passes for 283 yards and scored five total touchdowns.
The game was a nightmare on every level for the Titans. Marcus Mariota suffered a hamstring injury that forced him to miss the following week’s matchup with Miami. More significantly, the performance called into question Tennessee’s coaching staff.
On Sunday, the Titans host Watson and the Houston Texans under the tutelage of Mike Vrabel, who just so happened to be Houston’s defensive coordinator last season. How much of an impact that has against the budding superstar quarterback remains to be seen. However, what Vrabel and the Titans can do is learn from New England’s plan of attack.
The Patriots successfully held Watson in check last Sunday, holding him to a pedestrian completion percentage of 50 percent and a meager 176 passing yards. Part of their success had to do with Watson’s health — coming off major surgery, any quarterback is naturally hesitant to extend themselves.
Most of it had to do with Belichick’s brilliant game plan, which in simplest terms featured one major concept — don’t blitz Deshaun Watson.
Watson currently blurs the line between thrower and passer. He can be on either side of the spectrum, but after eight games of evidence, Watson falls into the category of thrower — a quarterback who uses their arm because they can — rather than a passer — a quarterback who uses their arm because they know how to.
The elite quarterbacks such as Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, and Drew Brees can beat a defense in any fashion they desire — death by 1,000 paper cuts in the short passing game, a myriad of jaw-dropping anticipatory passes in tight windows, or a mind-bending combination of both.
Although Watson’s level of play far exceeds his experience, his dependency on downfield throws proves he has a lot to learn when it comes to analyzing the field.
Belichick understood this, so instead of allowing Watson to avoid extra pass rushers with his instinctive mobility and run into the open field with nobody there to tackle him, he let his defensive line do the heavy lifting.
New England only rushed four on this play, but because Houston’s offensive line is so awful, they were able to generate a pass rush quickly enough to force Watson outside the pocket. Once Watson escaped, Kyle Van Noy (No. 53) and Malcolm Brown (No. 90) adjusted and cut off any running lane Watson had, forcing him to make a short throw.
The Patriots again penetrate the backfield quickly with only four pass rushers. The defensive line has engulfed Watson inside a cocoon, leaving him nowhere to run, resulting in a sack.
Here lies Watson’s biggest weakness — his decision-making.
New England does a great job of containing Watson within the pocket, and even though an immediate pass rush isn’t generated, Watson knows it’ll develop from all angles at some point. Instead of taking the running back underneath, he makes a questionable decision and heaves a throw into double coverage for an interception.
Mike Vrabel isn’t Bill Belichick, and the Tennessee Titans aren’t the New England Patriots, but the lesson is obvious — if the Titans want to avoid another Deshaun Watson demolition, they need to mimic New England’s game plan to the best of their abilities.
Featured image courtesy of USA Today Sports