The Green Bay Packers played with renewed energy on Sunday in a 31-28 overtime win over their former head coach Mike McCarthy and the Dallas Cowboys. And they got help from an unlikely hero in this one when Christian Watson caught the first three touchdown passes of his career. Earlier this season he had already run for one touchdown on an end around versus the Patriots.
On Sunday versus the Cowboys, Watson caught four passes for 107 yards and three touchdowns. He narrowly missed a fourth touchdown pass when a deep go ball hit the tips of his fingers just out of reach. It was a long time coming as fans may remember the unfortunate drop he suffered from in week one versus the Vikings.
Since then, Watson has done nothing but battle back to earn reps and catches but so far he’s only caught 14 passes for 195 yards. He doubled his best game best for targets today with eight and had nearly four times as many receiving yards as his next best game. It was a great day for the rookie.
First touchdown catch, 2nd quarter, 3rd-and-1 at GB 42, 5:02 remaining
On third down here late in the second quarter, the Packers trailed 7-0 and desperately needed a spark on offense. Near mid field, Matt LaFleur called up a shot play on third and short, one that allowed Watson to use his speed to get open downfield.
The play action pass is commonly referred to as yankee or “rider” in the Shanahan tree. It’s an intermediate crosser with a deep go route on the opposite side. Usually the crosser is in the 18-22 yard range but here it looks like the tight end cuts it short, probably just an in-game or game plan adjustment that’s based on the pass rush and who’s in coverage.
Watson uses a stutter release versus the press coverage corner. The corner does not jam him at the line of scrimmage and Watson is able to use his speed to burn past him outside the numbers. Once he clears the defender, he should stack the defender a bit more behind him (to place him in line and take away the defender’s leverage) but it almost does not matter because Rodgers delivers a perfect pass over his outside shoulder where the defender cannot make a play on it.
Cowboys corner Anthony Brown (No. 3) tries to knock the pass away as Watsons secures it but falls down as Watson races into the end zone. This was a fantastic route where he showed he was strong enough at the catch point to win versus Brown who tried to peel it away.
Second touchdown, 4th quarter, 4th-and-7 @ DAL 39, 13:31 remaining
Trailing 28-14 at this point, the Packers entered four-down territory as settling for field goals down two scores in the fourth was not an option.
On 4th-and-7 here, the Packers play call is a dagger variant run out of a trips stack formation from the right.
The Cowboys mug the line of scrimmage showing a cover-1 pressure that rotates into a cover-3 zone. This is supposed to muddy the picture for the quarterback pre-snap but Rodgers still is one of the best at decoding what he sees post-snap.
Watson is the second route in the progression here running the deep over route. Rodgers is looking for Lazard on the in-breaking route beyond the sticks but the pressure forces him to step up into the pocket. He could have thrown to Lazard who was wide open but his eyes go to Watson immediately after climbing as he can see the defender’s back turned to the line of scrimmage.
Watson again uses his speed to burn past the safety who had to speed turn to run with him. His back is turned the entire time, and in the NFL, that is considered open. All Rodgers has to do is put the pass in the perfect spot and he did.
Third touchdown, 4th quarter, 1st-and-7 at DAL 7, 2:33 remaining
On Watson’s third touchdown of the game on the next drive, Rodgers found him with 2:33 remaining in the game to tie it 28-28.
The play call is a play action mini dagger concept adapted for the red zone. Watson is in a two-receiver stack to the right as the slot receiver on the point. He’s running the short crosser across the field.
The Cowboys are playing tight man coverage red zone with the safety over the two receiver stack with a “cone” coverage bracket Watson in the slot.
Watson bursts through the coverage and just outruns everyone to the catch point. The safeties chase and pass him off to one another but they are unable to catch him as Watson runs toward the far side of the end zone. Rodgers executes the fake and looks to his right as Watson crosses the ball. Easy decision. Watson has about three steps on the defenders and catches his third touchdown of the game.
Because we don't have a lot of access to this kind of information, it was easy to underestimate how much Christian Watson's intelligence would help him adjust to the NFL from North Dakota State.— Peter Bukowski (@Peter_Bukowski) November 16, 2022
Listen to him break down coverage, scheme, and plan. NDSU wins titles for a reason. pic.twitter.com/79GsRTmT7z
This is the spark the Packers offense desperately needed after the last several weeks but more importantly, this is the confidence boost the young receiver needed to take his development to the next level. Hopefully this means he can become the reliable deep threat the offense needs in the back half of this season.