The Green Bay Packers offense came back down to earth last Thursday night versus the Tennessee Titans at home, losing by a score of 27-17. The tone was set early when the Packers went for a quick three-and-out after the Titans drove 83 yards in eight plays to take a 7-0 lead in their opening drive.
The one bright spot continues to be rookie receiver Christian Watson, who continued his scoring spree by adding another two receiving touchdowns and catching four passes for 48 yards. In addition to this, he showed on several occasions that he can be very effective as a run blocker as well. However, while he continues to shine on the stat sheet, there are a couple of tendencies he has to correct before he can take the next step.
Where Watson is winning
Watson’s two touchdown passes showcased again why the Packers drafted him. Displaying both strength at the catch point and speed, he was able to snag two more touchdowns to help keep the Packers in the game.
On his first touchdown, the Packers catch the Titans' defense with too many men on the field. As a result, the play call switches to four verticals because they get the free play. Watson is the number one receiver at the top of the screen.
Kristian Fulton (No. 26) is in coverage on Watson to the top of the formation. With Rodgers directing traffic as the receivers all run vertical, Watson fights for positioning on the sideline in the end zone. He starts to work back to the front corner of the end zone as Rodgers rolls left, points, and throws the pass to the back pylon. Watson works back behind the defender, goes up, and snags the pass for the touchdown.
On his second touchdown, Watson got open on a coverage bust by the Titans when the corner failed to pick up his crossing route.
The play call is a play-action mesh crosser concept with a ghost motion to influence the linebackers and open the crossing routes.
Watson cuts across at the snap and bursts through the second level once he gets to the middle of the field. No Titans defender picks him up as he races through the secondary and Rodgers layers a well-timed and well-placed pass over the defender chasing Watson. The touchdown brought the Packers within three points in the third quarter.
While Watson has showcased elite speed in the last two games and an ability to separate from defenders and make tough catches downfield, he is also quietly becoming a force in the run game where he is not afraid to get physical with defenders.
In the last two games, as his reps have gone up, he has been asked to insert himself into the run as a physical presence both in the middle of the field and on the perimeter, preventing defenders from making the tackle on the running backs.
Where he needs to improve
Slowing down on deep routes
As a deep threat, Watson has the ability to take the top off the defense and if he can get open, then Rodgers will get him the ball. But on two separate occasions against Dallas and Tennesee, Watson was not anticipating a deep pass and slowed down, only to have the ball thrown his way where he was unable to come up with it because he backed his speed off.
In both plays, Watson is running downfield on a go route and a deep post route. And on both plays, he slows down anticipating the ball will not be thrown his way but both times it was. Against Dallas, he very likely would have had four touchdowns if he had not slowed down. The pass hit off his fingertips and he could not bring it in.
Against the Titans, the situation was nearly identical. He slowed down on a deep post route but Rodgers threw it downfield. He started to sprint again but the pass was just out in front of him. He will learn not to slow down on these routes especially as he gets a feel for the kind of separation he gets with his speed and with Rodgers' ability to throw a perfect pass most of the time.
Watson has had three drops in the last two games and the one nasty drop versus Minnesota in Week 1 that would have been a touchdown, too.
Overall, Watson is rounding into a trusted receiver among a group that has been decimated by injuries this season, including himself. But if he cleans up the couple of issues he has right now, heading into 2022 he could find himself as the number one wide receiver who possesses both the speed and strength to win on tough catches, something that has been missing since last season.