The Cleveland Browns should be thrilled right now considering the success they've had this season despite continued adversity. With several players — including high-profile starters — on the IR, they've still found a way to go 8-5 and have the playoffs in sight. They've also found success with Joe Flacco under center while Deshaun Watson is out with a shoulder injury.
Cleveland's offensive explosion with Flacco has led to many questions, especially since he found success quickly whereas Watson has 12 starts under his belt with this team and has been rather inconsistent. One question that comes up is whether or not Watson's heart is in it anymore. He's been asked this point blank and while he denies such allegations, not everyone is convinced.
In a recent piece from Mike Sando of The Athletic, 50 head coaches and executives were asked to rank the current crop of NFL quarterbacks. The take on Watson from one of the people polled was far from flattering as they said they believe Watson is "done."
“Yeah, I think he’s done,” the voter said according to Sando. “He has always been a guy who holds the ball. He has always pressured himself. They need to call the game with him like they need to call it without him: heavy screen game, heavy run game, 12 personnel, quarterback keepers.”
One part of this statement that stands out is how the game is called with Watson. When he's been on the field, the pass rush seems to be a major issue. He's constantly trying to escape pressure and that's led to some problems with fumbles and even some errant throws. However, when Flacco has started — with several backup linemen — they hold up better.
This likely goes back to the play-calling, which is getting the ball out faster. It also seems to do wonders for their play-action game, which is where Flacco has been deadly. While all of that's true, it doesn't mean Watson's done.
Just look at the fact that he continued to try and work back from a shoulder injury, as well as his desire to get back on the field against Baltimore despite hurting his ankle and re-injuring the shoulder, and it's easy to see he wants to play. Having said that, there were also some whispers that he and Kevin Stefanski might not be on the same page, but nothing has been substantiated there either.
Watson's also had his leadership questioned, especially when he watched their game in Los Angeles from a press box rather than on the field. The Browns came out and said that was their plan since he just had surgery but as we see with Watson, the spotlight is bright.
Cleveland knew this would be the case when they signed Watson. They took a risk considering his off-field issues and still signed him to a massive contract, which makes him un-movable. That means they can only hope this executive is wrong and that Watson is committed. But if not, at least they proved they can win no matter who is under center — but it would still be easier to do so with someone of his skill level.