Deshaun Watson’s Houston success may not translate to Browns stardom

Cleveland Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski (right) addresses Deshaun Watson's off-the-field baggage during his introductory press conference.Syndication Akron Beacon Journal
Cleveland Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski (right) addresses Deshaun Watson's off-the-field baggage during his introductory press conference.Syndication Akron Beacon Journal /
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Browns, Deshaun Watson
Dec 11, 2022; Cincinnati, Ohio, USA; Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) and head coach Kevin Stefanski before the game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paycor Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports /

Can the Browns coach and qiarterback adapt to each other?

Let’s just state the obvious. So far, despite the hot second half in Week 17, the marriage has gotten off to a rocky start and some counseling is probably needed. The quarterback doesn’t make the required progressions often enough, and the receivers have not provided adequate receiving help — or at least they have not performed at the level required to allow the quarterback to produce the 4,000 yards per year expected of him.

It seems that they have dropped passes for Watson that they were catching for Jacoby Brissett, for whatever reason. That may not be Watson’s fault.

It’s a cliché that an NFL quarterback isn’t supposed to stare down a single wide receiver rather than making a progression through at least five different reads. But that’s not really true.

Even Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady will focus on a single receiver and wait for him to get open in certain situations. However, it seems like there are too many plays in which Watson achieves radar lock-on with his primary receiver (usually Amari Cooper) and other targets are ignored.

If you look at the film of Watson’s games with Cleveland, when he looks left, he generally doesn’t look anywhere else until the play is complete. He either throws left, scrambles, and throws the ball away, or turns it into a running play.

Conversely, if he looks right, he follows the receiver on the right side until the play is complete and doesn’t look for the second or third receiver. Sometimes he does in fact make his progressions, just not as often as a pro quarterback might be expected to. Maybe at some point, he will become more comfortable with the offense and that will get fixed. However, until that comfort level is reached, maybe that is why they are limiting the number of passes to about 20 per game.

There’s no reason Stefanski’s offense shouldn’t work well with a running quarterback, and in fact, the quarterback option is a natural fit. However, Andrew Berry didn’t help Stefanski in the offseason. The two-tight-end offense (or one tight end with a fullback) concept doesn’t work very well if the team does not actually have at least three good tight ends and a true fullback.

In the offseason, Berry let fullback Andy Janovich go without replacing him, and also let Austin Hooper walk, while not drafting a replacement tight end. Instead, they drafted David Bell, who we think is a very good possession slot receiver, which is fine, but he does take snaps away from the second tight end.

The sixth round is a good place to look for a tight end, but instead, they drafted another slot receiver in Michael Woods II, who didn’t catch many passes in college and doesn’t run very fast either. The only concession Berry made was to pick up recycled Pharaoh Brown at tight end in mid-season. That’s all you get, Kevin, so you better learn to love quarterback options and multiple wide-receiver formations. Can you take a hint?

At fullback, they have tried recycled offensive linemen Chris Hubbard (you thought he retired three years ago, but no), Drew Forbes (you thought he was cut three years ago, but no), and Michael Dunn (you were sure he was either cut or retired three years ago, but no). That’s how much Berry has helped the Stefanski offense this season. Just bag it, Kevin, this is the Air Deshaun era now.

Even though Bill O’Brien used two tight ends frequently in Houston, Watson has expressed a preference for a wide-open shooting gallery-style offense with multiple deep threats and upwards of 40 launches a game. This sounds a lot like the dialogue that Russell Wilson had with John Elway and the Denver Broncos.

Far be it for any of us amateurs to question the judgment of an all-time great like Elway, and a coach like Nathaniel Hackett who was the OC for Aaron Rodgers. Oh, make that ex-coach, since Hackett has already been fired.

You get the point. Sometimes, the experts are wrong.

Similarly, this deep-strike offense may never materialize in Cleveland. Stefanski may not be the right head coach for that offense, and though Watson believes that that is what he wants, he may not be the right quarterback to execute it.

If the Browns aren’t going to let Stefanski play two tight ends or have a true fullback, just fire him and get it over with. Let Andrew Berry show that he knows what he is doing and prove the non-expert critics like this one wrong. Install the Air Watson offense, win the Super Bowl and we will all be happy to be wrong.