LANCE ZIERLEIN

Former NFL coach impressed with Watson's growth

Deshaun Watson has impressed one former coach with his chess-like skills. Illustration by Brandon Strange

I had the good fortune of growing up in a house with a football coach when I was younger. Check that. It wasn’t always good fortune. Coach’s hours are pretty severe so he missed many of my football, baseball, and basketball games. Also, the house could be on edge on any given week due to how the season was going, recruiting was going, or how the week’s matchup looked. Being a coach is stressful. Living with them isn’t much better. However, for what I do in both radio and in my NFL work, it was invaluable.
 

 

My dad, Larry Zierlein, won a Super Bowl ring with the Pittsburgh Steelers and spent the last five years of a 38 career in Arizona with Bruce Arians before finally retiring after the 2017 season concluded. We now bring him on “The Bench” each Tuesday morning to give us some insight into what he’s seeing on the field from a coach’s perspective.

Offensive Line Help

On Kendall Lamm starting:

“I thought Kendall was an improvement if nothing more than just the fact he didn’t have five penalties. He’s a more athletic guy than Davenport is. He’s not a real strong guy and when people wanted to power through him, he can’t stop them, but he is athletic.” - Larry Z.

I was actually pretty happy with Lamm. Granted, the bar hasn’t been set very high, but we’ve seen him in the past and I thought this was one of the better versions of Lamm that we’ve seen. I still think there is a chance that Davenport can end up playing some left tackle this year as he’s struggled to handle technique with his change from the left to the right.

On offensive line scheme changes

“It was obvious they did some things to help the tackles. They did a “full-term protection’” where they brought the tight end across the line of scrimmage to block the end and also the running back was there to help on that end. They had one protection that we used to use a lot where if you have a 4-2 defense, they would slide the center to the side that the back was on so you had a possibility of a 4 on 2 over there. Then they would chip with the tight end on the other side so that was a 3 on 2 look and that really did help them. I thought the staff did a great job of saying look we just can’t be a drop back-team all the time. We’re going to have to do some things to help the protection.” - Larry Z.

I’ll give the Texans and their staff credit for making the necessary adjustments in this one, but let’s be real… what in the hell took them so long to make pass protection a priority? They had two, first-time starters at tackle and a quarterback who will hang onto the ball a little longer than he should. MAKE PROTECTION YOUR PRIORITY!

Deshaun is learning to play chess

On Watson hanging onto the football:

“He reminds me a little bit of what Roethlisberger was like back when I was in Pittsburgh 10 years ago in that he just wants to make plays. He’s got a lot of confidence in himself and it just looks like he thinks ‘man if I just hang onto this thing a little longer, I’m going to make a play.’ They are in the top ten [offenses] of the league strictly because this young quarterback can make plays. He scrambles around, he finds people downfield, he makes plays. If this kid ever learns to throw on time and really gets a better understanding, he’s really going to be something."- Larry Z.

I don’t have to tell you that Ben Roethlisberger’s hanging onto the football caused him to take some sacks that he didn’t need to, but it also lead to him making the type of plays he made in Super Bowl XLIII that helped my dad get his Super Bowl ring. In a perfect world, Deshaun Watson will learn to throw in rhythm more often, but sometimes playmakers will opt to work off schedule and in those times, they will also make special things happen that can win games.

Deshaun Watson learning to play chess against the defense:

“If you haven’t seen a look, and you’re young, you don’t know how to react to it. Now if you’re a veteran... somewhere along the line in your career you’ve seen it and you can react to it. I remember our staff out in Arizona talking about how smart and bright this kid was when they spent time with him and I believe he’s a quick study and I don’t believe he’s going to be fooled too much.” - Larry Z.

This is the point we should never forget. No matter how many touchdowns Watson threw for in a short sample size last year, he’s still learning. He’s still at the infant stages of his development relatively speaking. Watson is seeing things for the first time and there is no way to develop unless you get the experience of seeing things for the first time and trying to figure them out. However, there are signs that Watson is moving forward in his growth.

On trusting Watson to make his own protection calls:

“I saw something when I rewatched [the game] the other night that I didn’t see during the game and I thought it was outstanding. I believe it was late in the fourth quarter. The Colts showed a 2-deep safety look which basically means you could blitz from either side because either safety could come down to cover for the slot whose blitzing. And, for whatever reason, you can see Watson changing the protection to get his offensive linemen to slide to the right. When I’m re-watching I’m saying ‘what is causing him to do it’? Now the right tackle can pick up someone off the slot if he came and sure enough he came. I don’t know to this day what caused him to change his protection that way. They disguised it well. I just thought it was outstanding. There was no clue and yet he got himself protected.” - Larry Z.

And that, my friends, is what film study and high football IQ will do for you. Watson works at his craft. In the process of this work, we are going to see mistakes made in diagnosing defenses and making decisions. But he’s a work in progress and a former NFL offensive line coach is already seeing signs of Watson making big leaps in understanding the advanced layers of the game. In college, quarterbacks can play checkers and have great success. In the NFL, they must play chess. Deshaun has learned new openings.

 

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Altuve's homer starting the scoring for Houston on Friday night. Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
After a solid showing to take the three of the four-game series in Arlington against the Rangers to start the week, the Astros returned home for three against the Diamondbacks in a weekend series. They would have a slow start to the opener but would ultimately come away victorious.

Final Score (10 innings): Astros 4, Diamondbacks 3

Astros' Record: 87-60, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Ryne Stanek (3-4)

Losing Pitcher: Tyler Clippard (1-1)

Bielak makes the impromptu start

With Luis Garcia having to move his start ahead by a day on Thursday instead of Friday with Framber Valdez's finger cut, Brandon Bielak made a start for Houston in the opener against Arizona. He didn't go as deep as he probably would have wanted and certainly ventured out of his comfort zone with traffic on the bases.

He loaded the bases in the top of the first, allowing a single and two walks, but was able to strand all three to keep it a scoreless game. He rebounded with a 1-2-3 second, but he dealt with a threat again in the third as back-to-back singles pressured him to start the inning. He would get back-to-back strikeouts, but that's as far as he would go as Houston moved on to Blake Taylor. Taylor got the final out of the third on one pitch, then erased a two-out double in the top of the fourth.

Altuve breaks up the no-no with a go-ahead homer

Brooks Raley took over in the top of the fifth, but in his three batters, he faced allowed a single while getting two outs before Cristian Javier took over to end the frame. Javier allowed the first run of the game in the top of the sixth, a leadoff solo homer to Kole Calhoun to put the Diamondbacks in front 1-0 before he finished the inning.

Madison Bumgarner didn't allow a single hit to the Astros through the first five and two-thirds innings. He allowed a one-out walk in the bottom of the sixth, which proved costly as Jose Altuve would get the first knock of the game for Houston, a two-run go-ahead homer. Phil Maton was the next reliever for the Astros in the top of the seventh, maintaining the new one-run lead by erasing a leadoff single.

Astros get the win in extras

The Diamondbacks tied it up in the top of the eighth against Kendall Graveman, getting a leadoff single followed by a walk, then later an RBI single to knot things up 2-2. Houston stranded a runner in the bottom of the eighth, then brought in Ryan Pressly, who tossed a 1-2-3 top of the ninth to keep the game tied.

Despite getting the winning run in scoring position with a leadoff ground-rule double by Jason Castro to start the bottom of the ninth, they would strand it as the game went to extras. Arizona scored their free runner in the top of the tenth, getting a sac fly to move it to third then going in front on an RBI single.

The Astros matched that and more in the bottom of the inning, moving their runner to third on a lineout to start the frame, followed by an intentional walk to Yordan Alvarez. Jake Meyers tied the game with an RBI single, then after another walk to load the bases, Chas McCormick was hit by a pitch to bring in the winning run, moving the Astros closer to clinching their playoff berth.

Up Next: The middle game of this three-game set will have a start time of 6:10 PM Central on Saturday. Tyler Gilbert (2-2, 3.15 ERA) is expected to make a start for Arizona, while Lance McCullers Jr. (12-4, 3.12 ERA) will be on the mound for Houston.

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