Three years ago, as then-Browns rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel embarked on the first preseason games of his career, the overriding question related to whether he could keep himself healthy by minimizing the number of times he is hit. For current Texans rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson, it’s fair to at least pay attention to his ability to avoid hits and, in turn, to avoid potential injuries.
In extended action last night against the Panthers, which the NFL has collected into one continuous stream of highlights, Watson was hit six times, mostly behind the line of scrimmage — and never by starting-caliber defenders. Many of the hits came as Watson remained in the pocket. On several occasions, he demonstrated good mobility, either rolling out of the pocket as part of the designed play or scrambling laterally to buy time, at least twice to his left.
For the most part, Watson ran away from defenders, extending the play while avoiding contact. On his signature play of the night (a 15-yard touchdown run), Watson dropped back, saw no receivers open, tucked the ball, darted toward the line, and then took off.
Near the end zone, he had a pair of defenders closing on him. In a game that counts, against first-string defensive backs, Watson quite possibly wouldn’t have made it to the end zone without being hit. So what would he have in that situation? Slid, dove, juked, or kept going?
At that point, Watson would have been fair game for a helmet-to-helmet hit or a shot to the legs, like one that former Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper took on that same field, wrecking his knee and, as a practical matter, ending his career.
While Watson emerged from last night’s game healthy, the Texans want to keep him that way for the next decade, or longer. How he navigates the field when facing the best defenders in the league will be a significant factor in that regard.