When the 2020 NFL season opened with the Kansas City Chiefs facing the Texans in Houston, many things were different. The traditional training camp was shortened due to the on-going COVID-19 pandemic, which also forced the league to cancel the preseason and almost every team to not allow fans in the stands (for the time being). One thing, however, was unchanged.
Two of the league’s best quarterbacks, Patrick Mahomes, the reigning Super Bowl champion and Super Bowl MVP, and Deshaun Watson, were going to battle on the gridiron as scheduled. These young passers are the epitome of the modern-day quarterback. They’re fast; they can create near-impossible plays outside of the pocket. They also have some of the most potent arms to keep up with the pass-happy NFL.
Mahomes was riding the heels of a mega-deal—a record-breaking 10-year, $450 million extension reached in early July—and Watson was entering the season on a four-year, $160 million contract extension of his own. What we got out of that game, however, was a lopsided win in favor of Kansas City, 34-20, and more fuel to add to the potential dumpster fire as Bill O’Brien juggles the head coach and general manager roles in Houston. Instead of a quarterback showdown, Watson was stifled by the Chiefs’ defense and sorely missed one of the league’s best wide receivers after O’Brien sent DeAndre Hopkins to the Arizona Cardinals in exchange for running back David Johnson and draft picks months prior.
Despite opening Week 1 with a loss, there’s no reason for Texans’ fans to panic. Houston’s opening schedule is among the toughest, and while Watson had the ninth-lowest quarterback rating after Week 1 (84.5), he was arguably the better quarterback of the two.
Watson left the matchup with a higher grade than Mahomes, according to Pro Football Focus, and, when breaking down their performances further, was under more pressure but was also more accurate than Mahomes. According to PFF, Watson had a 35% pressure rate (compared to Mahomes’ 18%) and was accurate on 45% of his 10-plus yard throws (compared to Mahomes’ 25% accuracy rate).
“I was sharp,” Watson told reporters after the loss. “I took what the defense gave me, and they took away a lot of the deep shots. I tried to get my guys some opportunities to make plays and sometimes we capitalized, sometimes we didn’t. We just have to continue to grow from there. I did what I needed to do to stay as close as possible and keep this team in reach to try to win the game.”
Watson’s improvement, and the Texans’ record, might not see an uptick until they get through Week 3. Houston entered the season with the eighth-toughest schedule, tying the Cardinals, with an opponent win rate of .518. The Texans’ first three games might be their toughest stretch as Watson finds his rhythm with a receiving corps of Brandin Cooks, Will Fuller, and Kenny Stills. In Week 2 they’ll face the reigning NFL MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens, and in Week 3, they’ll travel to Pittsburgh to play one of the best defenses in the league. Jackson is playing his best football with a slew of talent around him. The Ravens infused both sides of the ball with more power this offseason seen in rookie running back J.K. Dobbins and linebacker Patrick Queen. This particular Steelers defense is even better than years prior and is already shutting teams down. Pittsburgh held the New York Giants to 29 yards total on the ground; this is the same Giants team with running back Saquon Barkley.
If Watson is once again overshadowed by a Ravens win and stopped by a Steelers defense, there is no need for too much pause. With a little more time under new offensive coordinator Tim Kelly and better play from not just Watson, but the offensive line, Houston can again emerge as AFC South leaders—if they can turn it around after this tough stretch or somehow steal a victory over the next two weeks.