Surprise, surprise. The Houston Texans are making another starting quarterback change.
For the 13th time since Bill O’Brien took over as head coach in 2014, the Texans will reportedly have a different starter under center than they did the year before, replacing Tom Savage with Deshaun Watson for Thursday night’s Week 2 contest.
Watson seems poised to join a list of starters that includes Ryan Fitzpatrick, Ryan Mallett, Case Keenum, Brian Hoyer, Brandon Weeden, and Brock Osweiler. While the young passer’s predicament seems to be par for the course in Houston, his quick rise to the first string raises a lot more questions than his predecessors.
With the Texans using a first-round pick on a quarterback for the first time by taking David Carr with the top pick in 2002 draft, it was assumed the team would have more patience in developing Watson. Some sort of red-shirt process seemed to have been laid out in preseason with teammates and coaches agreeing that Savage would be the sensible starter.
“He’s a rookie, and he’s not nearly where he needs to be to be a full-time starter in this league, but you can tell he’s got a lot of qualities you like,” said O’Brien in June following OTAs.
Savage got that start last Sunday, but lasted only one half, throwing for just 63 yards against the Jacksonville Jaguars while being shut out. Watson looked good not great in replacement duty, throwing a touchdown and an interception without performing remarkably different from Savage. The abrupt lineup change could be chalked up to O’Brien’s notorious impatience with quarterbacks, though if Watson was prepared to start at half, why didn’t he just start the game?
Throwing quarterbacks into action before they are ready is sometimes viewed as a necessity for struggling teams who have drafted one in the first round, but it can also ruin an inexperienced passer and make them gun shy. That’s exactly what happened to Carr back with the Texans in their expansion era, taking 76 sacks as a rookie.
In that regard, putting Watson into the game on Sunday was a particularly risky move given the 10 sacks the Jaguars’ defense recorded and the fact that Texans starting left tackle Duane Brown is currently holding out.
Part of the reason Watson may be getting the start is because the decision isn’t coming from the coaching staff. Just about an hour-and-a-half before Watson became the reported starter, O’Brien refused to announce who will be his first-string quarterback, claiming he doesn’t have to name one publicly.
O’Brien also reportedly disagreed with the Texans’ decision to sign Brock Osweiler as their starter in 2016, though he let the 26-year-old quarterback last 14 ugly games before getting the hook.
The extra risk involved with pushing Watson into the spotlight is his status as a first-round pick, which essentially excludes him from being pulled. If Watson is truly expected to be the franchise quarterback, once he takes over, he can’t have the reins taken away. And if he can’t succeed as a starter, the Texans’ coaching staff will be to blame.
Likely the biggest reason O’Brien has kept his job after the Osweiler fiasco is because he was reportedly against the idea from Day 1, but if he is the one to jump the gun on starting Watson, his tenure in Houston will most certainly end. O’Brien has had three straight years of 9-7 records and poor quarterback play after being hired with a “QB guru” reputation.
Watson failing as a rookie wouldn’t mean his career is totally over, but if he isn’t the answer for the Texans, the team doesn’t have many guesses left to figure out what is as they traded a 2017 first-round pick to get the Clemson star.
The 12th overall pick has lived up to expectations in the past, making it to two straight national championship games and winning a series of individual college awards. However, the weight of an entire organization could now rest on his shoulders after just a single half of NFL action. There is no way the Texans planned for this to happen so soon – but it looks like it’s happening anyways.
(Photos courtesy: Action Images)