Dabo Swinney tried to tell everyone who would listen. Deshaun Watson has it -- moxie, clutchability, drive, an ability to succeed regardless of the obstacles in front of him -- and was going to succeed at the NFL level.
Watson, who was coming off a near victory over Bill Belichick in Foxborough, actually made history against the Titans on Sunday, piling up four touchdowns and joining Fran Tarkenton as the only rookie quarterback in NFL history to pass for 250 yards, throw three touchdowns and run for another touchdown in a single game.
On the first drive for the Texans, two plays from Watson really stood out immediately. On a second-and-7, Watson got pressured from his blind side and appeared to be on the verge of getting sacked. The situation -- pressure, open field in front -- reeked of a situation where a young quarterback would take off running and pick up a few yards with this feet.
Instead, Watson calmly sidestepped the pressure, climbed the pocket and delivered a strike down the field to Bruce Ellington for a 35-yard gain. Two plays later, Watson showed off his legs and flashed his versatility, running a speed option to the left with Lamar Miller, patiently and perfectly reading Brian Orakpo to set up a casual flip of the ball and a Miller score.
Credit goes to Bill O'Brien for tweaking the offense to favor Watson too, putting in concepts that maximize his strengths. In the red zone for the second time against the Titans, the Texans used a run/pass option to give Watson a clean look at DeAndre Hopkins running a slant on the outside.
When the safeties and linebackers commit to stopping a potential run by Miller, Watson fires a shot into Hopkins for an easy score. The throw wasn't even that accurate (it was behind Hopkins), but for the receiver and fellow Clemson alum, it probably felt like it hit him squarely in the numbers after the quarterbacks he's played with the past few years.
Watson was impressive under pressure too, finishing with an adjusted completion percentage of 66.7 on 13 dropbacks where he got heat from the Titans, per Pro Football Focus. The offense just looks different and in a good way: it's clear that O'Brien catered the system to some of Watson's strengths while also doing what he could to mitigate the limitations that come with any rookie.
The result, despite being against a terrible Titans defense, was the most points scored in Texans history. There's no need to jump the gun and start building the Canton bust for Watson, but there are some questions about this situation that we need to answer.
Are the Texans the AFC South favorite?
Maybe. At 2-2, with a surprising road win over the Bengals and one division home win, they have an emerging young quarterback, a high-end receiver in Hopkins and two talented running backs in Miller and D'Onta Foreman. The defense is dangerous, and J.J. Watt hasn't even played at his maximum abilities yet. If Marcus Mariota is missing for any amount of time, Watson will suddenly be the best starting quarterback in the division, assuming Andrew Luck remains out. The Texans have a real window here.
Why did we doubt Watson?
This one I keep coming back to. In 2015 I remember tweeting that Watson should be the No. 1 overall pick and it shouldn't be close. I let his 2016, which was marked by some questionable decision-making, along with concerns about his development into a pro system, cloud my judgment. So did a lot of people.
The bottom line is that he's a gamer who has put up big numbers and won huge games at every level. The talent surrounding him at Clemson was notable, but Watson elevated guys around him. He's doing the same thing with Houston. It feels a lot like Russell Wilson when he took over the starting job in Seattle his rookie season in that regard.
Why did Tom Savage start Week 1?
No idea. My best guess right now is that O'Brien didn't want to modify his system and that Savage did actually make more sense at the time in that scenario. Play the young guy and build around him. It's almost always a better idea.
Why did the Browns pass on Watson?
Well they didn't just pass on him. They passed on him twice. Two different times. Cleveland has DeShone Kizer, Myles Garrett and Jabrill Peppers to show for it, which is nice. But Watson looks like a franchise quarterback right now.
The worst part? The Browns held the No. 12 pick, where Watson was taken. They traded with the Texans so the Texans could come up and get Watson. Cleveland owns a bunch of future picks, including two first-round picks in the 2018 NFL Draft. But you can't put a price on a franchise quarterback.
People can hammer home the point about what surrounds Watson versus what surrounds Kizer. It's not unfair. But Watson has "the look" right now. It would be really difficult to challenge Kareem Hunt for Offensive Rookie of the Year through four games (Monday night pending for Hunt), but Watson has as good a case as anyone.
Rams look great
In the business of predicting the future in football, it's nearly impossible to have an actually high success rate. So when you hit on a longshot, you need to tout it frequently. This is me doing that: I predicted the Rams would win on Sunday in Dallas, and they did! Which means it's officially time for us to start the "are the Rams the best team in the NFC West?" chatter.
Turns out, even asking the question or insinuating it might not be a stone-cold fact will get you yelled at. Despite Seattle thrashing the Colts late on Sunday, I think the theory still holds, primarily because the Rams are more complete and have more upside than the rest of the teams in the division. The Seahawks have the best single unit with their defense, but even they have been susceptible to the run this year.
Los Angeles sports a dangerous, explosive offense that, once again, matched a Jeff Fisher-type number on Sunday. By crossing the 30-point barrier, the Rams have three 30-point games in 2017. That's the same number they had in 2016 and 2015 combined. Todd Gurley is out of control at this point; he's just happier running in this system, and Sean McVay is putting him in a position to produce big plays. He's delivering.
The difference between Jared Goff last year and Goff this year is night and day. The job McVay is doing with Goff is nothing short of impressive and a big reason why it's OK to buy in on the Rams. This kid was the No. 1 overall pick. Now he's looking like the L.A. version of Kirk Cousins, a mentally astute signal caller who is seeing on the field exactly the same thing that McVay is seeing.
Los Angeles' defense is a work in progress right now, but give Wade Phillips time on this one. These guys are adjusting to an entirely new system and scheme; if he gets Aaron Donald and Co. rolling, the Rams are going to be great. A playoff berth for McVay in his first year shouldn't be surprising at all.
Also, these guys are fun. Watch McVay and Wade Phillips in the locker room after the win.
McVay, by the way, has the fourth-most points by a first-year head coach in his first four games in NFL history. The other three coaches are Tommy Hughitt (who coached the 1920 Buffalo All-Americans), Mike Martz (St. Louis Rams, 2000) and Bill Callahan (Raiders, 2002). Remember that the other two modern guys took over established, dominant offenses in situations that were vacated because of a retirement (Dick Vermeil) and trade (Jon Gruden). McVay, the youngest head coach in the league, took over a Rams team that finished with one of the five worst offenses in the league in 2016.
Bad day for rookie RBs
This has been a fun rookie running back class to watch so far, but things went south in a sad way on Sunday for a talented young group of runners. The most notable example was Dalvin Cook, the explosive Vikings running back who was meshing perfectly with Pat Shurmur's system and giving the Vikes a real threat in both the running and passing game.
Cook is, at this very moment, third in the NFL in rushing yards on the season. He won't stay in that spot, but there is a good chance he stays at the number, because it seems likely that Lions.Sunday against the
Cook suffered the injury in the middle of the third quarter and fumbled after he began to grab his knee before he even hit the ground. It looked like an ACL injury. The offense was struggling anyway, but it stalled out almost completely after Cook left. The Vikings ruled him out for the game within 10 minutes of the injury. That's never a good sign for the long-term prognosis.
Another young running back, Chris Carson of the Seahawks, looks like a good bet to miss time as well. Carson, the latest hard-running rookie to enter the Seahawks' program, has been emerging as a solid backfield weapon and Fantasy darling. He was salting the game away for the Seahawks Sunday night, when he got .
He would be carted off while wearing an air cast.
That's also a suboptimal look if you're hoping he'll be back on the field. It's also not ideal for the Seahawks' future running game; they are essentially going to be forced into leaning on Eddie Lacy. That sounded great in the offseason, not so much at this stage of the proceedings.
Odd injury timing
More bad injury news on a day that was full of ugly moments for high-profile players. In addition to the running backs who got hurt, we saw Derek Carr of the Raiders and Marcus Mariota of the Titans both leaving their respective games before the end.that could have a major impact over the next month or so, with
What's wild about this is that back on December 24, 2016, both Mariota and Carr were knocked out for the season with the same injury on the same day. The injuries would derail the Titans' playoff hopes and snuff out the Raiders' Super Bowl dreams.
These new injuries are hopefully not as bad but could still have a big impact. Mariota left in the second quarter after sprinting to the goal line and scoring a rushing touchdown. He has a hamstring injury, with an MRI pending that will tell us more about where he stands. Best quick guess? He misses 2-3 weeks minimum with some kind of hammy strain. It's just not reasonable to ask a guy who uses his legs so frequently to stand in the pocket with a bad hamstring and try to execute the offense. Plus, you run a major risk of exacerbating the injury if you keep rolling him out there.
The Titans defense might be terrible, which is going to be a problem. And Matt Cassel's not good. But they have a running game that can overpower opponents. Fortunately for the Titans, they have the Dolphins, Colts and Browns on the horizon. It's worth the gamble to get Mariota healthy.
Carr's injury looked worse when it happened, because he took a huge shot to the back while scrambling and getting sacked. He stayed on the ground for a long time, lending to the idea that it might be something more serious. Fortunately the Raiders appear to believe it's just back spasms, caused from taking a Shelby Harris knee to his back.
The Raiders need him though: they have three AFC home games in the next 18 days, playing the Ravens, Chargers and Chiefs. If Carr were to miss time, there is a significant dropoff to EJ Manuel (although he wasn't terrible in reserve duty on Sunday), and those games could have a huge impact on the AFC West divisional race.
Worst Patriots defense ... ever?
Betting against the New England Patriots turning things around is a dangerous proposition. Just ask the Atlanta Falcons. But it is going to be a borderline miracle for Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia to flip the narrative on New England's defense.
With a 33-30 loss to the Panthers at home -- possibly the most surprising box score of the week -- New England has now given up 33 points or more in three of its four games this year.
To put that in context, the Patriots have given up 33 points or more 23 times since Belichick arrived in 2000. That's a laughable 13 percent of those games in the past month. The Pats had one such game in 2015, two in 2014, zero in 2013 and one each in 2010-12. Bill Belichick teams don't give up 30-plus points, and he's handing them out like Halloween candy this year.
More context for this: Brady is playing out of his mind at the age of 40, defying Father Time like no one else before him. He just became the first player in NFL history to pass for at least 1,000 yards with 10 touchdowns and no interceptions through his first four games for the second time in his career. (He also did it in 2015.) It's sort of a nebulous stat, but the tl;dr version: Brady is running along at his standard MVP clip.
Tom Brady’s QB rating through four games: 116.6.— Ben Volin (@BenVolin) October 1, 2017
Combined QB rating of the four opposing QBs when facing the Patriots: 116.5.
Those guys are good. Brees is a Hall of Fame quarterback, Newton was an MVP two years ago and Smith and Watson are former first-round picks. But this is not a usual occurrence.
Patriots fans have to trust in Belichick and Patricia because they have the benefit of the doubt based on history. But this should be a major concern.
Random quarterback humor
Nothing deep to take away from a few things here involving Jay Cutler and Philip Rivers, except that you might have a good idea based on how these guys are acting just how their teams are doing. Jay Cutler's "route" he ran on a wildcat play during the brunch game is just so perfect.
Hands on his hips, cig dangling, zero bleeps given.
Rivers was much less calm. As the Chargers were falling to 0-4, Rivers came walking off the field with the offense taking a delay of game penalty and being forced to punt. He lost his daggum mind.
Then after the game, Rivers channeled his inner Brinson when asked a question by a reporter. This is usually how I respond when someone says "so you picked the Cards and Chargers to go to the Super Bowl, huh?"
It's not hard to blame Rivers for being upset. He is four games into a 16-game season that features only road games. Technically the Chargers will play eight games at their Los Angeles home, but it's been overrun by fans from other teams showing up and cheering loudly. The Eagles are openly mocking the situation on Twitter.
The Chargers are a walking one-score loss. It is just brutal to watch week in and week out.