I had the good fortune of growing up in a house with a football coach when I was younger. Check that: It wasn’t always good fortune. A coach’s hours are pretty severe, so he missed many of my football, baseball, and basketball games. Also, the house could be on edge on any given week due to how the season was going, recruiting was going, or how the week’s matchup looked. Being a coach is stressful. Living with them isn’t much better. However, for what I do in both radio and in my NFL work, it was invaluable.
My dad, Larry Zierlein, won a Super Bowl ring with the Pittsburgh Steelers and spent the last five years of a 38-year career in Arizona with Bruce Arians. He finally retired after the 2017 season concluded. We now bring him on The Bench each Tuesday morning to give us some insight into what he’s seeing on the field from a coach’s perspective.
Here is his assessment on the Texans franchise quarterback Deshaun Watson, who he says, is “learning to play chess,” along with my thoughts.
On Watson hanging onto the football:
“He reminds me a little bit of what [Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben] Roethlisberger was like back when I was in Pittsburgh 10 years ago, in that he just wants to make plays. He’s got a lot of confidence in himself and it just looks like he thinks, ‘man if I just hang onto this thing a little longer, I’m going to make a play.’ They are in the top ten [offenses] of the league strictly because this young quarterback can make plays. He scrambles around, he finds people downfield, he makes plays. If this kid ever learns to throw on time and really gets a better understanding, he’s really going to be something."
I don’t have to tell you that Roethlisberger’s hanging onto the football caused him to take some sacks that he didn’t need to, but it also lead to him making the type of plays he made in Super Bowl XLIII that helped my dad get his Super Bowl ring. In a perfect world, Watson will learn to throw in rhythm more often, but sometimes playmakers will opt to work off schedule and in those times, they will also make special things happen that can win games.
On Watson learning to play chess against the defense:
“If you haven’t seen a look, and you’re young, you don’t know how to react to it. Now if you’re a veteran... somewhere along the line in your career you’ve seen it and you can react to it. I remember our staff out in Arizona talking about how smart and bright this kid was when they spent time with him and I believe he’s a quick study and I don’t believe he’s going to be fooled too much.”
This is the point we should never forget. No matter how many touchdowns Watson threw for in a short sample size last year, he’s still learning. He’s still at the infant stages of his development relatively speaking. Watson is seeing things for the first time, and there is no way to develop — unless you get the experience of seeing things for the first time and trying to figure them out. However, there are signs that Watson is moving forward in his growth.
On trusting Watson to make his own protection calls:
“I saw something when I rewatched [the game] the other night that I didn’t see during the game and I thought it was outstanding. I believe it was late in the fourth quarter. The Colts showed a two-deep safety look, which basically means you could blitz from either side because either safety could come down to cover for the slot whose blitzing. And, for whatever reason, you can see Watson changing the protection to get his offensive linemen to slide to the right.
When I’m re-watching I’m saying ‘what is causing him to do it?’ Now the right tackle can pick up someone off the slot if he came and sure enough he came. I don’t know to this day what caused him to change his protection that way. They disguised it well. I just thought it was outstanding. There was no clue and yet he got himself protected.”
And that, my friends, is what film study and a high football IQ will do for you. Watson works at his craft. In the process of this work, we are going to see mistakes made in diagnosing defenses and making decisions. But he’s a work in progress and a former NFL offensive line coach is already seeing signs of Watson making big leaps in understanding the advanced layers of the game. In college, quarterbacks can play checkers and have great success.
In the NFL, they must play chess.