HOUSTON (AP) — Without J.J. Watt for the second straight season, a new star has emerged for the Houston Texans. Rookie Deshaun Watson has this team long known for its defense rolling on offense.
Though the Texans are 3-3 entering their bye, the development of Watson has them encouraged that they've finally found the player to end their years of quarterback woes and help the franchise take the next step.
Romeo Crennel, Houston's 70-year-old assistant head coach who has worked in the NFL since 1981, says Watson has the "it factor."
"You can't describe the 'it factor.' Guys who have it, they have it, and you just know it when you see it," Crennel said. "But it's hard to tell what it is. You take a guy like J.J. - J.J. has the 'it factor' and his it factor is different than Watson's 'it factor.' But you know it when they got it and you see it."
Watson is emerging as the new face of this team that is looking to move on after Watt, a three-time Def ensive Player of the Year, broke his leg on Oct. 8. The Texans also spent most of last season without Watt; he missed the last 13 games after having a second back surgery.
They won their second straight AFC South title last season, but were eliminated by New England in the divisional round of the playoffs after a three-interception performance by Brock Osweiler. The Texans dealt Osweiler to Cleveland in March and traded up to take Watson with the 12th overall pick in this year's draft after he led Clemson to a national championship. He started the year as Tom Savage's backup, but took over at halftime of a season-opening loss to Jacksonville after Savage struggled.
Since then, Watson thrown for 1,297 yards and 15 touchdowns to give him the most touchdown passes by a rookie in the first six games in NFL history. Under his guidance the Texans have scored 30 or more points in four straight games for the first time in franchise history, highlighted by a 57-14 win over the Ti tans where they set a franchise mark for points.
His performance is a welcome change for a team searching for a solution at quarterback for years, and has had nine players start behind center since 2013. The 22-year-old is well aware of Houston's longtime quarterback problems, but is set on looking ahead and not concerning himself about what happened before he joined the team.
"I just try to stay focused on my job and operation of this offense and do what I can really do, kind of control what I can control ... and learn as I grow each and every week," he said. "But, as far as my impact, I know I have a lot of it, but honestly, I just try to do what I have to do to do my job."
Watson's numbers are certainly impressive, but if you talk to coaches and players they'll tell you his statistics only tell part of the story. The Texans love his attitude and the confidence he's brought to this offense.
"He has his own swag to him. He just keeps everything fun," receiv er Will Fuller said. "That's the biggest thing with football is just if you're having fun I feel like you can play free. I feel like that's what he does, too. He plays free and he makes plays."
Watson's all about the fun, for sure.
"The energy and the vibe that we bring on the field and the fun that we have," he said. "I believe that it's easy to kind of get in that place where it's all about business and everyone's kind of uptight and not having fun. But with this offense, we love to have fun and go out there and put up points and every time we step on the field."
He also has a knack for extending plays with his legs and making ones that could lead a highlight reel. One such play came in Week 3 against the Patriots when he evaded four tackles before launching a 31-yard pass to D'Onta Foreman in the fourth quarter. The n there was the play he made against the Chiefs when Rakeem Nunez-Roches tried to strip the ball out of his hands as he scrambled away from the pass rush. Watson smoothly moved the ball from his right to left hand to keep it away from Nunez-Roches before switching it back to his right and launching it 48 yards for a touchdown to Fuller.
Coach Bill O'Brien is impressed by these plays, too. But he knows that Watson will have to continue to improve if the Texans hope to make their third straight playoff appearance.
"He's got a great instinct, he's got good eyes, good vision, good feel," O'Brien said. "He's done a really good job for a 22-year old guy, but ... it gets harder and harder. The more you put things on film, the more you have to adjust. If anybody can adjust and anybody can adapt, it's him. Being around him for t he time that I've been around him ... he's very smart, very poised and he's got a good instinct for the game."
In other words, the it factor.