Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson has not flown under the radar since being the 12th overall pick in the 2017 draft, but has national stature continues to grow ahead of his team’s showdown Sunday versus the Indianapolis Colts.
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Watson 1,644 yards, 12 touchdown passes, and a 69.4 percent completion rate, tracking for career highs in all three categories. He is the primary reason Houston (4-2) leads the AFC South and has a chance to open a 1 1/2-game lead on Indianapolis (3-2), which was the division’s preseason frontrunner before Andrew Luck’s stunning retirement.
Balanced offense key to Texans’ success
Watson’s MVP candidacy gained momentum after Houston’s 31-24 win at Kansas City last weekend. He accounted for three touchdowns — one through the air and two on the ground — and 322 yards of total offense. It was the fourth time he reached 300, and the Texans are 3-1 in those games.
Watson has gotten help from an unsung ground game, which was in crisis during the preseason after losing Lamar Miller to a torn ACL. The Texans acquired Carlos Hyde from the Chiefs as part of a late-preseason overhaul that also saw Houston land Duke Johnson from Cleveland and offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil from Miami.
Hyde has rushed for 426 yards and totaled a season-high 116 versus Kansas City. It can be argued Texans coach Bill O’Brien has underused Johnson, who has 239 rushing yards wile averaging 6.46 per carry. O’Brien, though, has firmly committed to the ground game to augment Watson’s talent under center. Houston is fifth in the league in rushing at 139.8 yards per game and sixth in yards per carry (4.96) as Tunsil has settled in at left tackle.
Tunsil has also helped the passing game as Watson is not running for his life after every drop back. He was not sacked in back-to-back games for the first time in his career after the Texans kept a clean pocket versus Kansas City — a stark contrast to the NFL-worst 62 sacks he absorbed in 2018. Time to throw means more connections with No. 1 wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who has team highs of 40 catches and 402 yards.
Colts offer mirror image in transition from Luck to Brissett
Indianapolis has similar attributes offensively with quality running back Marlon Mack and standout receiver T.Y. Hilton. The acquisition of Jacoby Brissett from New England in 2017 when Luck was injured is paying dividends now since Brissett got a full preseason of reps as the No. 1 quarterback this summer.
Brissett has thrown for 1,062 yards and 10 touchdowns, giving the Colts stability under center. He was the only quarterback to throw multiple TD passes the first four games, and even when he failed to do so in Week 5 versus Kansas City, Brissett did enough to guide Indianapolis to a 19-13 road win before its bye week.
Mack shouldered the offensive burden in that win with 132 yards and a touchdown for his first 100-yard game since Week 1. He is seventh with 470 rushing yards, and the Colts rank fourth in rushing (142.0) and attempts (31.8). Despite missing a game due to injury, Hilton leads Indianapolis in catches (24) and yards (232) while hooking up with Brissett on four TD tosses.
The Offenses Give the Over the Edge
Despite the under trending in this series — it has gone 5-1 in the last six meetings — the over is the play. Both teams are above the league averages in red zone touchdown efficiency, red zone scoring efficiency, and points per red zone possession. The over is 5-1 in Houston’s last six road games and 5-2 in Indianapolis’ last seven coming off a win. And that one over in the last six games came in last year’s matchup in Indianapolis — a 37-34 Texans overtime victory.
(Deshaun Watson photo courtesy NFL official Twitter account)