HOUSTON — NFL scouts staring through binoculars in the press box at NRG Stadium on Sunday caught an eyeful of what opponents could expect come the postseason from Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson.
Utilizing an array of designed runs, Watson outrushed the Jacksonville Jaguars (48 yards to 16) in the first half of what turned into a 20-3 victory that clinched the AFC South for the Texans. The lowest seed they will have in the playoffs is No. 3, and that comes with home field for the wild-card round.
Their only path to a first-round bye is complicated. First, they would need losses by the Chiefs and Chargers. Then the Texans would need to clinch a tie in strength-of-victory tiebreaker over the Chiefs, which can’t be determined until all games are played.
Along the way, Watson became the first quarterback to throw for at least 4,000 yards and 25 touchdowns and rush for 500 yards and five touchdowns in a single season in NFL history.
Houston’s offense scorched the Jaguars early with designed runs for the multifaceted Watson. Watson ran for 66 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries. The quarterback ran the ball (five attempts) almost as much as he passed it (eight attempts) in the opening quarter. Watson’s 5-yard run with 14:56 left in the second quarter put the Texans ahead 10-3 after the extra-point kick.
The play also marked Watson’s fifth designed rush of the contest, which ranked as his most in a game in his career. By the 10:30 mark of the fourth quarter, Watson had run on designed rushes 8 times for 57 yards.
That registers as the most designed rushes for a Texans quarterback in a game in the past 10 seasons, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
While it would seem shortsighted to put your quarterback in harm’s way with the playoffs on the horizon, for the Texans, the tactic worked. Houston averaged 7.4 yards per rush when using the zone read in the first half, as Watson racked up 48 yards and a touchdown on seven attempts, while the Jacksonville trio of Carlos Hyde, Dave Williams and Blake Bortles combined for 16 yards on 10 carries.
When Houston didn’t utilize zone read runs with Watson, Lamar Miller and Alfred Blue took turns grinding down the Jaguars for a combined 78 yards on 2o attempts.
Houston’s leading rusher, Miller made his return against the Jaguars after missing last week’s loss to the Philadelphia Eagles due to a sprained ankle. Miller’s 7-yard touchdown with 3:01 left in the first half gave Houston a 17-3 lead after the PAT kick.
Texans linebacker Zach Cunningham set up the Watson TD by recovering Dede Westbrook‘s fumble at the end of a 36-yard punt with 1:33 left in the opening quarter that put Houston on its own 49. The Texans needed just four plays to cap the 51-yard drive, despite nearly doubling Jacksonville’s time of possession in the first quarter (9:42 to 5:18).
Jacksonville didn’t get a first down until the 9:53 mark of the second quarter, and Westbrook’s muffed punt gave the Jaguars the designation of being the only team in the NFL to commit a turnover in every game this season, becoming the first team to do so since the 2015 Tennessee Titans.