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Browns OL getting more comfortable with Deshaun Watson’s style of play

OTAs and training camp helping OL prepare for mobile QB who extends plays

NFL: Cleveland Browns at Washington Commanders Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

The biggest story for the Cleveland Browns in 2023 and beyond is QB Deshaun Watson. Not only is quarterback the most important position in the NFL but the amount of cap space and draft capital used to acquire Watson makes his play even more vital to the team.

While new DC Jim Schwartz will be important in developing a quality defense with all the talented added to the roster, RB Nick Chubb will continue to be the best back in the league and the offensive line remains near the top of the NFL, Watson playing like he did in 2022 would torpedo the season.

Not everything about Watson’s play with the Houston Texans was perfect. While he was considered a top 5-10 quarterback, he also was sacked an exorbitant amount of times including leading the lead in 2018 with 62 sacks for 384 yards. Like drops and interceptions, not all sacks are created equal. Sometimes, a quarterback is sacked because of a bad offensive line. Sometimes, a quarterback is dropped because of just great play by a defender.

Other times, the quarterback runs into sacks either through lack of understanding of a defense or while trying to extend plays.

During his time in Houston, Watson was plagued by a bad offensive line but also held on to the ball trying to extend plays.

One of the under-discussed issues for Cleveland’s offense and Watson’s improvement in 2023 is the team’s offensive line’s comfort with their quarterback’s style of play. It can be tough for linemen to maintain blocks when the quarterback is on the move and still has the football after a few seconds of a play.

Joel Bitonio, the Browns star guard, talked about the growing comfort between the line and Watson during training camp:

Yeah, we’re understanding him a lot better. How he drops, how he extends a play to try and make a better play, how we’re going to move the pocket for him a little bit. All those things are coming out I think the more we practice.

Today we finally got some full speed stuff, but we’re getting used to it and I think he’s feeling more comfortable with us and talking to guys and asking guys, ‘Hey, on this play, like, do this for us or change it around.’ So he’s finding his voice as well. I think it’s just a gelling out period, but we’re definitely getting more comfortable.

Last year, in just six games, Watson was sacked 20 times, losing 106 yards. Jacoby Brissett, who started 11 games for the team, was sacked 24 times losing 160 yards. For reference, Patrick Mahomes, another QB that extends plays, was sacked just 26 times last season (28 is his career high) while Joe Burrow, less mobile but with a worse offensive line, was sacked 41 times for 259 yards.

Given his history, Watson will likely take more sacks than anyone would like but the hope is that the offensive line will learn how he moves around and that the extended plays will be more positive than negative. Bitonio seems confident that they will get on the same page.