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MAQB: Deshaun Watson Looked Better in Week 11; Joe Brady Deserves Credit for P.J. Walker

Deshaun Watson has put in work to clean up his mechanics lately, and it showed against the Patriots. Plus, dishing out credit for P.J. Walker's first start, Patrick Mahomes is an alien, don't bet against Joe Burrow, Chicago needs a new QB and more.

It’s Thanksgiving week. One game tonight, three more on Thursday, let’s go …


• Deshaun Watson looked different on Sunday against New England. Part of it may have been playing a New England pass rush that’s really struggling right now. But there was more to it than that. Watson threw with great anticipation on a first-quarter touchdown toss to Randall Cobb, and he put his accuracy on display on critical downfield throws of 25 and 24 yards to Jordan Akins, and those are just three examples of how his game was tightened up. In general, his mechanics were better, he was being more patient in the pocket and all this is no mistake. Watson’s been spending chunks of Mondays and Tuesdays of late doing extra detail and mechanical work with his throwing coach, Quincy Avery, and it sure looks like it’s showing up now. And this continued growth would qualify as awfully good news for whoever gets to coach Watson next.

• I don’t want what the Panthers’ staff pulled off Sunday to go by without saying something—because P.J. Walker walked into Bank of America Stadium with 15 career passing yards and walked out having completed 70.6% of his throws against the Lions for 258 yards and a touchdown in a 20–0 win. And while Matt Rhule deserves a ton of credit (and maybe even some Coach of the Year mention) for having Carolina this competitive while going through a roster overhaul in the weirdest NFL season in decades, when it comes to Walker’s performance, it’s worth looking down the staff list a little. That’ll get you to offensive coordinator Joe Brady, the 31-year-old phenom whom Rhule plucked from LSU earlier this year. Brady was probably already going to get some head coach looks this January based on the work he’s done with Teddy Bridgewater—on top of what he accomplished last year in Baton Rouge. And what Walker did on short notice will only bolster the case that someone should take a shot on Brady in 2021. The interesting thing about last week? Brady actually prepared Bridgewater, Walker and Will Grier to start, and built wrinkles into the game plan for each of them. Because of that, the truth is, the reps were split up last week, making what Walker and Brady pulled off even more impressive.

• Part of my process on Mondays is to go around and ask people for details or interesting quirks on signature performances on Sunday. Obviously, one of the guys I went hunting on coming out of this Sunday was Chiefs supernova Patrick Mahomes. And one question I asked about his comeback win over the Raiders on Sunday night was this: Was there any more to it than Mahomes just being an alien in general? “That’s basically it,” went one response I got. “He’s just better than everyone else.” That pretty much sums it up.

• You won’t make much money betting against Joe Burrow, and I’m definitely not going to make the mistake of doing that here. But even if he can make it back in time for the 2021 opener—and while the Bengals are optimistic he’ll be ready for next season, it’s hard for anyone to know definitively until after the surgery is done—he will be losing a lot. The injury will almost certainly wipe out his ability to do competitive field work in the spring, and could well limit him in training camp too. The time between Year 1 and Year 2 is critical for a young quarterback, so that’s nothing to sneeze at. Again, ask me to push my chips in, and I’m pushing them in on Burrow. But he’s going to lose some ground here, and have to make up for it as part of his recovery.

• I forgot to mention in my Colts item in this morning’s MMQB the bizarre penalty circumstance that waylaid the Colts near the end of regulation. On Indy’s last possession of regulation, the officials threw eight flags—six of them on the Colts, and five for holding (from four different players). It cost the Colts three points, having knocked them out of field goal range, and naturally it was the first thing I asked Frank Reich about when we talked on Sunday night. His answer: “I was going crazy. Obviously I didn’t see the calls and I wouldn’t critique the calls even if I had saw them. All I know is we can’t even give the opportunity for those calls to be made. So that’s a combination of coaching it better and playing it better. We all know when you get in a four-minute drive, you don’t give the officials the opportunity to make a call like that. I’d rather have a minus-2 run than a holding penalty. And that’s not just the players. That’s coaches. We’ve got to coach that better. And that starts with me. And we’ve just got to be cleaner right there.” The flip side? The flip side, for Reich, was that his players didn’t get sideways over the calls—which helped them work through the problem and win the game in overtime. “For sure,” Reich continued. “And again, that just goes back to the resiliency and the mental toughness of the team. And the belief in one another. And so, hey, if offensively we had an opportunity to put it away, and we didn’t do it, well the defense has got to do it and the special teams. And that’s what happened.”

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• Here’s what Dolphins coach Brian Flores said about benching Tua Tagovailoa, a day after the fact: “He’s the starting quarterback. He knows that. We’ve had that conversation. He’s played well. And I expect him to continue to play well. … He’s a resilient kid, like I’ve said. He’s a talented kid as well, too. I expect him to bounce back. I expect our entire team to bounce back, to be honest with you.” I don’t know why Flores did it. But if I had to guess? I’d say he’s probably holding other players to the same standard and feels like if he takes one off the field for being deficient in any area, he has to handle others the same way. Also, I think there’s a second message to the locker room that I took out of it, that I think is pretty clear: Miami is in the playoff hunt now, and the coaches are going to pull out all the stops.

• We can mark the Bears down now, regardless of who the coach is, as a team in the mix for a big quarterback acquisition (be it through the draft, trade or free agency) when we get past the season. Mitch Trubisky’s had his option declined and been benched. Nick Foles may be on the verge being benched after losing the summer competition for the job. So yeah, right up there with fixing the offensive line will be the task of at least taking a good hard look at every quarterbacking option on the market in 2021.

• A fun sidelight to Sunday’s Patriots–Cardinals game: Arizona coach Kliff Kingsbury played for Bill Belichick 17 years ago and, that year, Belichick put Kingsbury on injured reserve and basically turned him into a quality control assistant. Kingsbury’s a son of a coach, like Belichick, and Belichick figured he’d want to get into the business after he was done playing. That 2003 season became like a grad-level course for him in it. We had an item on it last August in the MMQB, and it was pretty clear then how much the now-Cards coach appreciated the experience: “I was in there grinding with the coaches. And that was basically the role that I served in, helping with breakdowns, printing things out, helping offensively any way they could use me under Charlie Weis and some really good coaches.” But after that year? Kingsbury wasn’t positive he really wanted to dive in. “I think at that point, I was like, ‘Hell no, I’m never doing this,’” Kingsbury said, laughing. “But looking back, that was huge as far as what I learned, a crash course from the best organization to ever do it, really. Coach Belichick and Charlie Weis, day-in, day-out, it was like getting a Ph.D. in football.” And now, here he is.

• We’ve mentioned this before: Sometimes getting past the trade deadline can make a difference for players who’ve been shopped. Browns DE Olivier Vernon seems to that kind of case. He was available in October, the Seahawks engaged Cleveland in talks on him before dealing for Carlos Dunlap, and there was some feeling in the Browns’ organization that Vernon was less than engaged throughout that process. There are stats to back it up too. He didn’t have a single sack in September or October. Since November 1? Five sacks in three games.

• One key matchup tonight, without question: The Rams’ pass rush against the Buccaneer offensive line. The formula for beating Tom Brady has always been to get to him with four rushers, and L.A. certainly has the personnel to do it. Should be a fun one.