The massive shadow of Patrick Mahomes often eclipses another pretty decent quarterback from the 2017 draft. You’ve had to work hard to see Deshaun Watson this season — his Houston Texans have played only one prime-time game — but trust me, it’s worth the effort.
Watson has assimilated his frenetic and daredevil scrambling skills into an impressive passing game, pushing the ball downfield and into the end zone at rates rarely seen even in the context of today’s league-wide passing exploits. Since the start of the 2017 season, Watson has thrown a touchdown pass on 6.5% of his attempts, better than every qualified NFL quarterback except Mahomes and Russell Wilson.
Watson produced an extreme example of that mentality in Sunday’s 53-32 victory over the Atlanta Falcons, throwing five touchdown passes on 33 attempts for a rate of 15.2%. And he did it without throwing an interception, the third time in his career that he has thrown five touchdown passes without a single pick. Only five other players in NFL history have produced at least three games with that tricky combination, according to research by the Elias Sports Bureau: Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Aaron Rodgers. Find me someone on that list who isn’t going to the Hall of Fame.
Overall, Watson ranks No. 4 this season in Total Quarterback Rating (70.9). We’ll start there for ESPN’s Week 5 Quarterback Awards, our Tuesday assessment of highs and lows using unique data culled from ESPN Stats & Information and NFL Next Gen Stats.
Only three players in the Super Bowl era have thrown for at least 400 yards, with five touchdowns and a perfect passer rating (158.3) in a single game. Watson is now one of them, joining Jared Goff (2018) and Nick Foles (2013). Yes, the NFL’s current passing era makes it impossible to use raw statistics to compare players from previous decades. Even so, Watson has elevated above most of his contemporaries and has never looked better than he did against a Falcons defense that entered the game ranked No. 15 in NFL defensive QBR.
He pushed the ball down the field effectively, completing 6-of-7 passes that traveled at least 15 yards down the field, accounting for 206 of his yards and two touchdowns. He ran when needed, knocking off a 30-yard scramble among his four attempts. But overall, Watson accelerated a recent trend that should protect him from some of the hits he took early in his career.
His rushing attempts through five games are down 35% compared to the same time period in 2018. And Sunday, Watson took an average time of 2.43 seconds to throw — much lower than his average of 2.92 seconds through the first four weeks of the season. As a result, he was contacted on only 7.5% of his dropbacks, the fourth-lowest rate in Week 5 and less than a third of his career rate entering the game (22.5%).
The Texans have some tough defenses on their schedule over the next two months, including the Colts (twice), Ravens and Patriots. But before that, they will have a Week 6 matchup against Mahomes and the Chiefs — a chance for Watson to demonstrate his progress in a Mahomes-dominated news cycle.
My original idea for this award was to give it to the quarterback who produces a Mahomes-like feat each week. But Mahomes just keeps doing it himself!
Where to start with his Week 5 gasp-inducing throw? At the beginning, of course.
The Chiefs were facing a 3rd-and-18 at the Colts’ 27-yard line. Entering the game, only one NFL quarterback had thrown a touchdown pass this season on third-and-18 or longer. (His name rhymes with Patrick Mahomes.)
To elude the Colts’ pass-rush, Mahomes twisted and turned for 40.2 total yards of scrambling behind the line of scrimmage, according to NFL Next Gen Stats — the most by any player on a touchdown pass this season. Exactly 7.61 seconds expired before he threw, the longest time he has ever taken to throw for a score. And when he finally released the ball, Mahomes was traveling 15.6 miles per hour, the second-fastest speed on a touchdown throw in the NFL in 2019. Byron Pringle hauled in the throw in the end zone.
.@PatrickMahomes is one of a kind.
THIS. THROW. 😱 #ChiefsKingdom
— NFL (@NFL) October 7, 2019
The play also illustrated why Mahomes was less effective after re-injuring his ankle in the second half. Much of his magic occurs when he is on the run, as defined by NFL Next Gen Stats as 8 mph or faster. Since the start of the 2018 season, he has thrown 15 such touchdowns — five more than the next-highest quarterback.
The Chiefs only scored three points after the touchdown to Pringle in a 19-13 loss, the first time the Chiefs have scored fewer than 25 points in 26 games. In total, Mahomes took four sacks, was pressured on 38% of his dropbacks and was off target on 30% of his passes, all season lows for him. The Colts’ defense deserves some of the credit for those numbers, but the timing of the ankle injury could not have been entirely coincidental. Not even Mahomes can scramble 40 yards behind the line of scrimmage for seven seconds on one good leg.
Thursday night games sometimes get lost in the history of a given NFL week, but let us not forget Wilson’s 13-yard drop in the bucket to receiver Tyler Lockett during the Seahawks’ 30-29 victory over the Los Angeles Rams.
The play had an expected completion percentage of 6.3%, according to NFL Next Gen Stats data, making it the most difficult touchdown pass in the three years the league has made player tracking technology results public. You probably don’t need a bunch of numbers to appreciate how ridiculous a throw it was, so to start, just take it in again.
TYLER LOCKETT IS UNGUARDABLE 😱pic.twitter.com/Me3ozuYEKt
— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) October 4, 2019
You can’t really quantify the difficulty of Wilson throwing the ball across his body. But we can note a few data points that put the throw into further context. First, what was officially a 13-yard pass actually traveled 39.2 yards through the air. The window was tight; there were defenders within 0.9 yards of Lockett on one side, and the sideline was 0.2 yards away on the other.
Wilson didn’t have time to set himself, either, because Rams pass-rusher Dante Fowler Jr. was 2.1 yards away. That forced Wilson to scramble a total of 24.6 yards over 7.24 seconds. He was running at 13.6 miles per hour when he threw it.
This, of course, is nothing new for Wilson this season. He leads the NFL in plus/minus from expected completion percentage (plus-10.5), according to NFL Next Gen Stats, and dime completions — 30-plus yards in the air with a window of less than a yard — with six.
We often hear about defenses bamboozling quarterbacks with the blitz. Sunday, however, the Green Bay Packers sat back in coverage against Prescott and accomplished the same thing.
Prescott faced five or more pass-rushers on just three of his 51 dropbacks in a 34-24 loss. That blitz rate of 5.9% was the lowest he has faced in his career. Yet Prescott threw a total of three interceptions, including two on play-action, and the Cowboys were trailing 31-3 before he began driving the ball down the field.
The Packers entered the game blitzing opponents at a rate of 28.5%. So why did defensive coordinator Mike Pettine change his approach? Prescott entered the game with a 98.1 QBR against the blitz, tied for the best in the NFL. Any future opponent attempting to replicate Pettine’s game plan will need to be able to get pressure with four or fewer rushers, naturally. The Packers got to Prescott on 27.5% of his dropbacks.