The Cleveland Browns mortgaged their future for a participant they weren’t certain would play for them in 2022. Cleveland, in want of the sort of quarterback able to altering the trajectory of its tragic franchise, traded three first spherical picks for Deshaun Watson, a participant then underneath investigation following greater than 20 accusations of sexual misconduct and what the NFL would later describe as “predatory habits.” As soon as the Browns had him, they gave him the biggest totally assured contract in league historical past because of a five-year, $230 million extension.
Watson sat out the primary 11 video games of the season because of a league mandated suspension — he additionally gave up $5 million in fines to go together with roughly $600,000 in recreation checks. This set him up for a return to Houston to face his former workforce in Week 13, then a state of Ohio showdown with the rival Cincinnati Bengals in Week 14. With a bit luck, a revitalized Watson may lead his workforce again into playoff competition.
That isn’t what Deshaun Watson has accomplished. Within the small pattern measurement of two video games he’s been much less worthwhile than the longtime backup he changed within the lineup.
Anticipated factors added (EPA) is an NFL stat that successfully assigns some extent worth to every play based mostly on whether or not it will increase or decreases a workforce’s likelihood of scoring. In 11 video games, Jacoby Brissett was answerable for 54.5 EPA for a 4-7 workforce. In two video games, Watson is at -5.1.
He has but to complete a Sunday with a constructive EPA.
In two video games, his offense has scored precisely one landing. Watson’s arrival was presupposed to function a beacon for a misplaced passing offense and current stability behind heart. Superior stats love Brissett as a result of he places up strong numbers and since these stats don’t prioritize backbreaking turnovers like those the previous starter was persistently answerable for within the last 5 minutes of recreation time. Watson’s presence was presupposed to carry composure to the lineup and win the 50/50 video games Brissett couldn’t.
However when Watson obtained the ball again in a 23-10 recreation along with his workforce in determined want of a rating, he totally blanked security Jessie Bates III and dug Cleveland’s gap even deeper.
Jessie lookin’ like a receiver 😮💨#ProBowlVote x #JessieBates#CLEvsCIN | 📺 CBS pic.twitter.com/SYKU0bv7Xx
— Cincinnati Bengals (@Bengals) December 11, 2022
In two video games, Watson has extra interceptions than landing passes. He’s accomplished simply three of 9 makes an attempt contained in the purple zone, connecting along with his guys ultimately zone as many instances as opposing safeties (one every).
He’s wanted 64 passes to throw for 407 yards. That 6.36 yard per try common would rank thirty second amongst all certified beginning quarterbacks, between Carson Wentz and Kenny Pickett. Touchdowns aren’t every little thing, however his 1.6 p.c landing price is worse than any full-timer however Pickett. In that very small pattern, the previous Professional Bowler trails his journeyman fill-in in nearly each statistical class.
The Cleveland offense averaged 5.6 yards per play and seven.0 yards per cross with Brissett on the helm. Within the restricted scope of Watson appearances these numbers are all the way down to 4.9 and 6.3. Whereas a few of that may be attributed to the rising Bengals’ protection, the Browns additionally had 4 quarters towards a hopeless Texans workforce to encourage confidence and failed miserably.
That is grim, however there’s cause to consider enchancment is coming. Watson didn’t must do a lot to beat the Texans as a result of his protection and particular groups put up three touchdowns on their very own. He was requested to do extra towards Cincinnati. Whereas it wasn’t nice, there have been indicators of life. He tried 10 passes that traveled a minimum of 13 yards downfield and accomplished six of them for 125 yards (however, sadly, additionally the Bates interception above).
Watson was additionally extra environment friendly as a runner Sunday, than he was in his debut. He solely ran the ball six instances however gained 33 yards — a step up from his seven carry, 21-yard efficiency vs. the Texans’ Twenty eighth-ranked run protection. Whereas there have been a pair read-option performs in there, the bulk have been scrambles that turned dangerous conditions into first downs with a mix of velocity, stability and energy:
Sadly for Cleveland, this didn’t translate into constant factors. The Bengals shut down the Browns’ potent run assault — 2.8 yards per carry in Week 14 — and put the onus on Watson’s shoulders. He didn’t step up and now Cleveland is 5-8 and holding onto a skinny wisp of playoff hope.
The upcoming schedule will do the embattled QB zero favors as he reintegrates himself into the league. Subsequent up are the Baltimore Ravens and their ninth-ranked protection, then the Fifteenth-ranked New Orleans Saints, Tenth-ranked Washington Commanders and Thirteenth-ranked Pittsburgh Steelers. If the Eleventh-ranked Bengals can maintain Cleveland to a single landing, so can they.
The Browns must hope the modest enchancment Watson confirmed Sunday are the start of a pattern, even when it was an in the end forgettable efficiency. It’s simple to handwave away two dangerous video games, particularly after 700 days away from the sport. But it surely’s affordable to be anxious when a man who was one of many league’s greatest quarterbacks in 2020 seems to be like a borderline high 30 man.
2022 was all the time going to be a misplaced season for Cleveland. Watson’s solely recourse is to generate pleasure for the longer term and hope his play on the sphere can paper over a few of his failures off it. He’s been unable to do this up to now. He solely has 4 video games left to show he was worthy of a reckless contract gamble by a determined proprietor.
It would occur. But when it doesn’t — if this model of Watson persists — it is going to be yet one more really Browns gamble in an AFC North the place groups have stacked income from Cleveland’s failures.