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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TEXANS HAVE ZERO DEPTH AT CORNER

Here's what Davante Adams' big day against the Texans really proved

Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images

Seven weeks into the season, Bradley Roby has been the sole bright spot playing for a secondary that has been subpar at best. He entered Week 7 against the Green Bay Packers trailing only Eric Murray for the most tackles as a defensive back, while owning the Houston Texans' only interception of the season.

During his media availability on Thursday, Roby spoke about having the Texans' confidence to trust him as the primary defender shadowing the opposing team's best receiver.

And with Davante Adams coming to NRG Stadium with Aaron Rodgers on Sunday, Roby had an opportunity to illustrate why Houston's coaching staff have so much faith in him.

Three plays into the game, Roby sustained a knee injury that sidelined him the rest of the afternoon. In his absence, the Texans felt his importance competing with a depleted secondary.

Adams would go on to have a career day against the Texans. He recorded a career-best 196 receiving yards on 13-of-18 targets and two touchdowns — as the Packers handed the Texans a 35-20 loss on Sunday.

Had the Fort Worth native avoided the injury, would it have resulted in a victory for the Texans? Perhaps not. It is always hard for a team to come away victorious after going scoreless during the first half, but Roby would have limited the destruction caused by Adams. Rogers completed four deep passes where he recorded 28 or more yards, with Adams being the recipient of three.

Not only did Houston have to deal with the effects of not having their best corner shadow one of the league's premier receivers, but the team was not prepared to battle without Roby, according to Michael Thomas following the loss.

"When you lose your starting corner like that, it's going to affect [the team]," Thomas said. "Anytime you have to make adjustments. If you're not prepared, and you don't have the right mindset, then you're probably not going to get the right results you want. Maybe we could have done it a little sooner, but you definitely miss a guy like Roby. You plan on having your number one guy go against their number one guy all the time."

Roby's premature exit left the Texans with a gaping void to slowdown Rodgers and the Packers without two of their projected starting corners. Gareon Conley — who revived his career during the second half of last season — has yet to play a single snap for Houston in 2020 as he continues to recover from offseason ankle surgery.

Their lackluster performance on Sunday showcased the lack of depth and talent the Texans have in the secondary. And with the trade deadline a week away, it may be in the Texans' best interest to invest in a young defensive back they can build around in the future — especially considering the timetable on Conley's return remains unknown.

Interim head coach Romeo Crennel said on Monday that the team is hoping Roby's injury is short-term and hopes to have their top corner make his return following the bye.

At 1-6 on the year, all the Texans have left to play for is pride as they close out the remaining nine games of the season, and the best way is to prevent another receiver from recording nearly 200 yards in a single game.

For this vulnerable secondary, it is a feat easier said than done. And with the talents of Jarvis Landry, T.Y. Hilton, and A.J. Brown remaining on the schedule, it is only best for Roby to make his return to the field sooner rather than later.

"I take pride in it. It's an opportunity that not a lot of guys get throughout the league, and I'm thankful for that. Just to be able to go against the best and try my best for the team and see how I match up. I'm very thankful for that." — Roby.

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