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Unlocking Deshaun Watson’s Game: The Urgent Challenge for the Cleveland Browns

During Monday night’s game, an NFC personnel executive was at his facility, and he had a television in his office tuned in to “Monday Night Football.” Although the sound was off, he periodically glanced at the screen to observe Deshaun Watson, the quarterback for the Cleveland Browns, as he took snaps against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Watson’s performance had been far from stellar, with his first pass resulting in an interception returned for a touchdown, and his subsequent struggles to move the offense down the field. However, this personnel executive’s interest in Watson’s performance was more than just casual curiosity. He had previously scouted Watson during his time at Clemson and had also evaluated him when the Houston Texans placed him on the trade market in 2021. While the personnel executive’s team never engaged in trade discussions with the Texans, he remained intrigued by Watson’s career trajectory in Cleveland. What he witnessed on Monday night left him unsettled.
“It wasn’t the same player I assessed before the trade,” the personnel executive remarked. “He’s displaying behaviors that are outside of his usual football character.”
The personnel executive proceeded to provide a brief assessment of what caught his attention during the Browns’ 26-22 loss to the Steelers.
“The facemask penalties, throwing the ball against the wall after a touchdown, and the incident involving an official,” he pointed out. “… Those actions were never characteristic of his playing style in Houston.
He could have also pointed out the recurring fumbles, interceptions, issues with accuracy, and the noticeable drop in fan confidence when it comes to Deshaun Watson’s ability to lead a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter. Moreover, the general lack of explosive moments during Watson’s eight starts for the Browns is concerning. These are a multitude of factors that have not yet shaken the confidence of the decision-makers within Cleveland’s organization. They firmly believe that Watson is in the process of shaking off rust and adjusting to the speed of the game.
It’s not surprising that the Browns maintain their internal confidence at this stage, given that the season is only two games old. In fact, Cleveland came extremely close to securing a 2-0 start, with the outcome hinging on a strip-sack and a fumble return for a touchdown, all transpiring on the Steelers’ home turf. Remarkably, this game occurred as the Browns’ star player, running back Nick Chubb, suffered a season-ending injury right before his teammates’ eyes. Additionally, the Browns’ defense exhibited a strong performance, which bodes well for a quarterback who is still striving to find his rhythm.
However, one cannot overlook a critical fact: Deshaun Watson’s last standout performance took place on January 3, 2021, when he threw for 365 yards and three touchdowns in a closely contested game against the Tennessee Titans. This momentous performance occurred nearly two years and nine months ago. To provide some perspective on this lengthy timeframe, when Watson left the field following that game, it would still be more than a year before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine would occur.
It has indeed been a substantial amount of time since Deshaun Watson showcased the elite quarterback skills that once placed him among the NFL’s top tier. Despite having an entire offseason to work with his teammates, engage in a comprehensive passing program, and immerse himself in head coach Kevin Stefanski’s offensive system, Watson still appears to be a shadow of his former self. This is a concerning development, particularly given his annual salary guarantee of $46 million, and the situation has now become even more magnified.
With the season-ending loss of Nick Chubb, the Browns now find themselves heavily reliant on Watson’s abilities.
Before delving into the implications of this, it’s essential to acknowledge Stefanski’s perspective on Watson’s role.
“I think it’s never about one person,” Stefanski stated during a recent press conference. “I completely understand that the quarterback gets way too much of the credit, way too much of the blame. That’s just the life of being a quarterback in the NFL. It’s the same as the head coach. You get all the credit, you don’t deserve it. You get all the blame, it doesn’t matter. You own it. … When you’re talking about the passing game, to be precise in the passing game, you need great protection. You need great footwork from the quarterback position. You need guys to run routes at proper depth. We as coaches have to design it as such and get people in those spots.

To start, the Browns do not face the problem of Watson shirking responsibility. He has consistently acknowledged his need to elevate his performance and assume accountability for the team’s failures. From a leadership standpoint, this is precisely what the team expects. Moreover, there is the matter of game film, which revealed significant breakdowns in pass protection against the Steelers. In the case of the strip-sack fumble, Watson’s responsibility was solely to secure the ball and avoid fumbling, a task he regrettably failed to accomplish.”

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