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Deshaun Watson: Texans’ Approach With the Rookie QB

Plus, why the Patriots might need a different approach to stopping Carolina’s run game, why Drew Brees can attack the Dolphins the same way he did Carolina last week, Trevor Siemian’s limitations, the NFL’s fastest linebacker and a bright spot for the Jets

1. The Texans have used a lot of condensed formations with Deshaun Watson. In other words, receivers are lining up close to the offensive tackles, as opposed to out wide. Bill O’Brien did this 20 times against New England, 14 of which were passes. The formation’s compactness sets up rub routes and switch releases for receivers, and creates more field to attack on out-breaking routes. But condensed formations also cluster the defense, making it easier to disguise coverage and pressure. Some coaches are reluctant to put young QBs in this situation. No defense does more with disguised pressure than the Titans, who Watson faces Sunday. It’ll be interesting to see how O’Brien’s men line up.

2. It’s been very apparent that Watson will target DeAndre Hopkins in tight windows. That’s important; Hopkins is an elite contested-catch artist who does not separate. A Texans quarterback must be willing to throw when he’s covered.

3. Miami’s defense, which is mostly zone-based, needs to play with patience against the Saints. Sean Payton had a great plan for the zone-based Panthers last week. Recognizing the speed of linebackers Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis and Shaq Thompson, Payton featured a litany of deceptive ploys, like play-action, backfield screen passes, reverses and draws. The idea was to show the linebackers something early in the down, get their reaction and then attack with something different late in the down. Miami’s defense is not as fast as Carolina’s, but these tactics work against any zone unit and the Saints are too good at them to not deploy them.

4. The Patriots like linebackers immediately up on the line of scrimmage in run defense. This aggression serves them well against zone running teams. But what about against the Panthers? Not only does Carolina employ a man-blocking scheme, but there are multiple options built into many of their runs, often leveraging Newton’s mobility. It’s an uncommon style of attack in pro football. The Patriots may have to tweak their run-stopping approach.

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5. Trevor Siemian struggled last week except on short timing/rhythm throws and on some high-low throws outside, where the Broncos got receivers behind and in front of an isolated zone defender. These simple tactics should comprise the backbone of their aerial attack against Oakland—and against the rest of the league, for that matter.

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6. Siemian has been operating behind a variety of guards. It appears that Ronald Leary has settled in on the right side (he flashed as a run-blocker against Buffalo last week), while Max Garcia and Allen Barbre are rotating on the left. Garcia and Barbre are the same size on paper, but Garcia plays bigger. Barbre, however, plays more athletically. On Sunday they’ll be playing against Raiders third-round rookie Eddie Vanderdoes, who is already one of the league’s nastiest, most violent players.

7. The Bills are finding an identity on offense. Much of it centers around putting Tyrod Taylor on the move (smart). This means a lot of crossing patterns downfield. Offensive coordinator Rick Dennison has been shrewd in his zone coverage-attacking designs here, which is important given how Bills opponents play less man-to-man because of Taylor’s mobility. There will be more zone this week when the Bills travel to Atlanta. Dan Quinn’s young safeties and linebackers had trouble identifying downfield crossing routes early last season but improved in the second half. Dennison will test those improvements.

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8. Andy Dalton tends to be overreactive to what he anticipates will be pressure. That’s not good for a QB behind a work-in-progress O-line. The Browns do not have a great four-man rush (Myles Garrett’s absence has hurt), but defensive coordinator Gregg Williams presents a ton of different pass-rush looks, often with a safety near the edge. He’ll turn it up even more on Sunday.

9. The fastest and most agile linebacker in football is Ryan Shazier. Besides chasing down the ball, Shazier’s explosiveness lends Pittsburgh’s defensive linemen more freedom to slip underneath of run blocks, rather than always fighting over the top. If you miss underneath, long runs can occur as the ball hits your gap quickly. Shazier, however, has the speed to close those gaps.

10. Jamal Adams is still young, but Jets fans can get excited about the first-round rookie safety. Against Miami, Adams stood out as a box run defender, help zone defender, man-to-man defender (facing tight end Julius Thomas) and as a blitzer.

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