With each week comes a new set of challenges for Texans rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson, whose early-season exploits have not only surprised the NFL, but have buoyed an offensive unit that appears to gain increasing proficiency with each contest.
In Watson, the Texans (3-3) have a signal caller ranking first in touchdown percentage (8.6), tied for second in touchdown passes (15) and sixth in passer rating (101.1). Watson led the NFL in scoring strikes before the Texans enjoyed their week off last weekend, and Watson used a portion of his downtime to continue improving instead of resting on his considerable laurels.
"Just worked out, recovered the body, did some conditioning," Watson said. "I watched a lot of film on myself. So, self-evaluation, trying to correct the mistakes I made the first previous weeks and just try to build on that.
"Just continue to make better decisions, ball placement, make quicker reads, my pocket awareness. Just try to operate the offense as best as I can."
Focusing on the finer details is mandatory labor for any starting quarterback, but with the Seahawks (4-2) on deck at CenturyLink Field in Seattle on Sunday, executing the minutiae becomes paramount. As is annually the case, the Seahawks are stout defensively with their collection of secondary Pro-Bowlers thriving on the back line of the stingiest unit in the league.
Seattle ranks first in points allowed (94), third in net yards per pass attempt (5.0), fifth in passing yards surrendered (1,145), and eighth in yards per play (4.9). The names remain unchanged, with cornerback Richard Sherman and safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor again anchoring the secondary and meeting lofty expectations with exceptional results.
With Watson developing his familiarity with the offense and strengthening his rapport with his playmakers, namely receivers DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller, the Texans have eclipsed the 30-point plateau four consecutive weeks. That success makes for a confident bunch, but the Texans' collective self-esteem will be tested this weekend to extremes unfamiliar to Watson.
"They are very, very smart," Texans coach Bill O'Brien said of the Seattle secondary. "Very well coached. Very athletic. They have length. They do a great job of communicating.
"We feel good about our playmakers but we also know that it's a huge challenge and that our guys need to be at the top of their game on Sunday."
Following a sluggish start to their season, the Seahawks have rounded into form, coming out of their off week and claiming their third consecutive victory, 24-7 over the New York Giants last weekend. While their defense hit a rough path in the second half of a loss at Tennessee in Week 3, that unit has been far more consistent and reliable than the Russell Wilson-led offense.
However, perhaps emblematic of team trending in the right direction, Wilson enjoyed his most efficient performance of the season against the Giants, posting a 121.1 passer rating. He passed for three touchdowns without an interception and completed 69.2 percent of his attempts en route to a 334-yard effort, his highest yardage total during the winning streak.
Wilson annually shoulders too great a burden relative to the productivity on offense, with the line charged to protect him often serving as the first line of failure. But when Wilson shines as he did Sunday, it's difficult to disregard how dangerous Seattle can be when everything clicks.
Comparatively, that's where the Texans stand with Watson at the controls. Wilson started from the onset of his rookie season and hasn't missed a start in his six-year career, methodically building on his first-year success to secure a standing among the elite at his position.
Based on what Watson has managed in five weeks as the starter, plenty are projecting a similar career path. Inserting Watson into the starting lineup as a rookie might ultimately serve Houston as well as it did the Seahawks when they did the same with Wilson.
"It depends on the player," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "You got to get them out there. They can't learn not playing. There's stuff that they can learn, but in the case of guys that have the physical ability, you got to get them out there and get them going so that they can start stacking up information and start to build kind of a background and a reservoir of experiences they can draw from."