Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson predicted that the team would produce fireworks on offense this season.
But two games into the campaign, the Browns have barely risen above a sparkler when they’ve had the ball.
Watson has completed just 55 percent of his passes (ranking him 31st in the league) and thrown an interception in each of the first two games, taken nine sacks, lost two of his three fumbles, and ranks 30th in Total QBR (29.3) and is last in the entire league passing EPA (-1.7), according to ESPN.
Two of Watson’s turnovers against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday night led directly to Pittsburgh touchdowns, and the offense as a whole has only converted nine-of-30 third-down attempts.
Deshaun Watson update, out of 35 QBs with 200 passing attempts since the start of 2022, he’s:— Rodger Sherman (@rodger) September 19, 2023
—33rd in yards/attempt (just below Carson Wentz)
—33rd in passer rating (just below Davis Mills)
—33rd in ANY/A
—34th in sack rate
—34th in completion %
—30th in success rate https://t.co/GQKviGcFKV
Package it all up and it is pretty clear that despite a full offseason of work, Watson has not looked at all like the quarterback he was with the Houston Texans.
So what gives?
When asked about it on Thursday, Watson said he is still in the growing phase with the offense (quote via a team-provided transcript):
“For myself, it’s being on the same page with everybody else. And that’s just going with protection wise through the coverage wise to what we’re thinking about with Kevin (Stefanski) if it’s going to be a four-down situation, if it’s a third-down situation, if I need to take the shots, if I don’t need to take the shots, and things like that. So just being able to just continue to grow and learn, and that’s the biggest thing for me. And that’s the part of this game. It’s the NFL. Every week is different. Every week is a new challenge, and you have to continue to grow and continue to get better.”
Watson also pointed to the changes that have occurred on the offense, from the offseason trade for wide receiver Elijah Moore to rookie offensive tackle Dawand Jones having to take over the starter’s role when Jack Conklin went down in the opener with a season-ending injury:
“Well, you got to think we had some injuries, so we had a rookie tackle that came in, so we got to change up a little bit of the protection wise. Nick (Chubb) went out early on, some young running backs that got to come in protection-wise, and then some of the receivers. (Amari Cooper) Coop, he was a guy that came along during camp. He didn’t get too much, too many reps. Elijah (Moore) is new to the system with live bullets, so we didn’t get too many live bullets in real games.
“You can’t sit here and say practice is going to be exactly the games. It’s two different speeds and two different things that are adjustable. Practice is usually, this is what we’re working on, this is what we’re trying to get better. But in the game, you got to be able to adjust on the fly. So all those things match up together, but we’re coming along, and sooner or later it’s going to click.”
Watson does bring up some valid points, especially when it comes to pass protection as the team has had to adjust to Jones (currently ranked No. 62 out of 71 qualifying tackles by Pro Football Focus) joining the lineup and the continuing struggles of left tackle Jedrick Wills Jr. (ranked No. 67 by PFF).
And not to disparage what Jerome Ford, Pierre Strong Jr. and Kareem Hunt bring to the table, but life is certainly not going to get easier with Chubb sidelined for the rest of the season with a knee injury.
But Cooper was on the team last year, played the six games that Watson was active, and spent all of training camp working with Watson. The same goes for fellow wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones and tight end David Njoku.
Not everyone is new on offense, and the offensive system, which head coach Kevin Stefanski worked with Watson on during the offseason to tailor it to what Watson does best, is not new either.
Without going into the hallowed All-22 film but from watching all of Cleveland’s first two games, there is something wrong and it appears to reside rather heavily at the feet of the starting quarterback, especially when you see him miss wide-open receivers or deliver rather off-target passes.
But as much as Watson has struggled, the Browns still rolled up 350 yards of offense and 24 points against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 1, and 408 yards of offense and 22 points against the Steelers.
So the offense is doing something right, especially with the way the defense is playing, just not enough to overcome the mistakes and missed opportunities.
Watson has started slowly in the past and turned things around as the season has progressed, so if he can get going on that starting this Sunday against the Tennessee Titans, then the Browns can right the situation before the season slips away from them.
It’s time to turn the page on the game against the Steelers and start focusing on what’s ahead.
Hopefully, if the offense does that, Watson is actually on the same page as everyone else.