Deshaun Watson is about to become the eighth rookie quarterback to start in Seattle during the Pete Carroll era.
The Seahawks have seven years of evidence indicating why the Houston Texans and their first-round draft choice should beware on Sunday.
CenturyLink Field is no place for kids.
Seven rookie QBs have come into Seattle to start against the Seahawks since 2010. Only one has been victorious: Andy Dalton, in 2011 with the Cincinnati Bengals.
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The Seahawks’ defense with Carroll’s attacking pass coverage, fast, versatile linebackers, attacking edge rushers and brick-wall inside linemen have been about as daunting as Seattle’s roaring fans to spooked rookie passers. That’s been from Jimmy Clausen for Carolina in 2010 through Sam Bradford in 2011, Derek Carr and, last year, Carson Wentz and Jared Goff.
The seven previous newbies have combined to complete just 56.7 percent of their throws with eight touchdowns, eight interceptions and a meager passer rating of 68.0. Those rookies have gone 1-6 in Seattle. Only two of those six losses have been within six points. The Seahawks have sacked those new guys 17 times in the seven games.
Only one of the previous seven rookies have thrown for even 200 yards in their games at CenturyLink. That was Wentz, last November. And the second-overall pick in the 2016 draft threw almost as many incomplete passes as completed ones that day: 23 connections with 22 misfires, two touchdowns and two interceptions. Seattle won 26-15.
"I’d like to think CenturyLink is a tough place to play, period—whether it’s a rookie or a 12-year vet," Seahawks All-Pro middle linebacker Bobby Wagner said.
Watson won the national championship for Clemson in January. Ten months later he is making just his sixth NFL start in Seattle on Sunday.
"It’s going to be really hard for him," Wagner said.
To try to prepare Watson, Texans coach Bill O’Brien had his team practicing amid ear-splitting music this past week.
"Just crank the music up as high as it can go," O’Brien said.
Even Watson knows that preparation will help only so much on game day.
"You play music and try to create noise, but you really can't prep yourself for it," Watson told reporters in Houston. "You just have to wait until you get there Sunday and experience it.
"You can blast the music all you want, but that's not going to help you on Sunday. It's going to be way louder."
Wagner is Seattle’s central communicator for the defense and pre-snap reader of offenses. He studies quarterbacks and their tendencies before and during games as much and perhaps more than his coaches do. He has a theory on why rookie QBs have struggled and lost so habitually in Seattle during this era of consecutive sellouts with 69,000 roaring and stomping so much the stadium with cantilever roofs over each side often shakes.
"The vets are more keyed into the checks and audibles and things of that nature," Wagner said of offenses’ changing plays and pass protections at the line just before snaps.
"I wouldn’t doubt that (Watson) doesn’t have all those checks already under his belt. But it’s really hard to make adjustments at the line of scrimmage for offenses in our stadium. I know most teams tend to simple it down when they play in loud arenas. So we kind of expect that."
So this may not be the same offensive plan that spawned Houston to average 39.5 points per game in its last four games. The Texans are third in the NFL in scoring through seven weeks of the regular season. Watson’s 15 touchdowns, against five interceptions, are the most scoring throws by a rookie through the first seven weeks of a season since Dan Marino in 1983. Not only is Watson throwing, he’s averaging 7.2 yards a game running.
Carroll calls Watson "dynamic."
"There’s nothing he can’t do," Carroll said. "He’s doing it all and he’s making marvelous throws and these tights window throws, all across the board from the top down. He can do it all so they’ve got to be just thrilled they have him, jumping in there and doing what he is doing."
Since Watson took over the starting job from Tom Savage—who?--at halftime of Houston’s opener, the Texans have been running a college-like offense. It’s had pre-snap motion, misdirection and fakes, including after handoffs such as faux fly sweeps. That has made Watson even more comfortable than he already was with his impressive poise.
But the Texans presumably won’t be able to hear all those bells and whistles to execute them as well inside CenturyLink Field.
"We expect them to simplify it a little bit," Wagner said, "just to help him in the stadium."
A simpler offense is, of course, an easier one to defend. And it’s not like Wagner’s defense needs help right now.
The Seahawks lead the league in points allowed at 15.7—and that includes them wilting in the second half in the Tennessee steam last month during a 33-27 loss to the Titans. The Seahawks from 2012-15 became the first team since the 1950s Cleveland Browns to lead the NFL in fewest points allowed. That was when four of those six rookie QBs lost in Seattle. Last season the Seahawks "slumped" to third in points allowed, at 18.2 per game.
Richard Sherman has been thrown at 10 times in Seattle’s last three games. He’s allowed just two completions for 17 yards with two pass breakups, including a reach back near the 15-yard line early last weekend to deny the New York Giants a touchdown early in the Seahawks’ 24-7 win. Passers have a rating of 39.6 when throwing at Sherman this month.
The three-time All-Pro cornerback thinks this is as well as the Seahawks’ defense has played since he got to Seattle out of Stanford in 2011.
"Yeah, we’re playing as high a level as we ever have," Sherman said.
He may get his first semi-regular shadowing assignment of the season Sunday against Houston’s top wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. The strong-handed veteran is a demon particularly on third downs and from the inside slot.
"Outside of the Tennessee game, which was obviously an outlier, I think we’ve given up 12 points a game or something like that in every other game," Sherman said. "I think it’s just funny: people’s standards are so high for us and our standards are so high that you confuse greatness with mediocrity. I guess you’re bored with greatness sometimes. And it happens with everyone, but you can appreciate it, at times.
"If we were somewhere else playing the same exact defense, it’d be outstanding. We just continue to do what we’ve always done. And that’s fair."
Now the Seahawks have added a third three-time All-Pro to the defense in pass rusher Dwight Freeney (Earl Thomas is the other). Freeney signed with Seattle on Wednesday for the rest of this season. After three practices Carroll says the 37-year-old former Super Bowl winner with Indianapolis a decade ago is ready to debut against the Texans.
Freeney has already benefited from playing last season in Atlanta. The Falcons under head coach Dan Quinn, the former Seahawks defensive coordinator, run the same schemes Seattle does.
"He’s picked stuff up immediately, I don’t know how he can learn so fast, but he’s just learned it. He has great feel for it," Carroll said. "I do know how he’s learned some of it because he played for Danny in Atlanta, and that’s really helped him.
"I have no hesitation on playing him this weekend. He’s ready to go."