LANDOVER, Md. — The Cleveland Browns had a rough start to the game against the Washington Commanders, stalling out on offense possession after possession. But in the second half, one drive solidified what the Browns are looking for out of quarterback Deshaun Watson and gave them a building block for a full year with him under center in 2023.
As with any good Browns offensive drive, the one in discussion began with a heavy dose of running back Nick Chubb. On the first three snaps, Chubb rushed for 22 yards, moving the chains with ease.
"It’s amazing. It's amazing to see it. I watched it as a fan for a long time, really since high school, growing up in Georgia, and now being able to see it live and hand him off the ball. he's going to be a future legend, and having that on our side and be able to keep that balance. So run, pass, it definitely helps our offense," said Watson after the game.
Keeping with the run game, head coach Kevin Stefanski got his rookie kick returner, running back Jerome Ford, involved in the offense. Ford had a solid nine-yard rush, showing that the running backs corps in Cleveland has a bright future and solid depth.
In a moment that put some pressure on Watson, the quarterback was forced to scramble in the backfield, struggling to find an open receiver and stalling out. But the reason this drive became special was the way Watson responded after that snap.
Finding Amari Cooper deep, Watson got the connections with his receivers going. He had already connected with Cooper for for touchdown at the start of the second half, a credit to Cooper for staying in down the sideline and pushing into the end zone. But continuing that to move downfield was crucial.
In Washington territory, Watson continued moving the ball around, targeting rookie wide receiver Michael Woods and tight end David Njoku, pushing closer and closer and wrapping the drive up with a perfect pass to wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones, who fell into the end zone to push the Browns ahead two scores.
That was a possession where he was a backside read and everything on the front side was developing. I read the coverage right and that was something that we worked on all week and we knew that they were going to be in that. So presnap I kind of knew I was going up to 11 and it opened up just like we wanted to," Watson said.
The moment wasn't lost on their defensive counterparts, either. Defensive end Myles Garrett was watching intently and admired how the offense began to expand.
"It looked good. You're always excited to see that. Coop coming up big and DPJ with a nice catch down there. Same with David. I know those guys are going to be play makers for us for a while. And D-Wat hitting them downfield for those long plays and then moving the ball so effortlessly. That's what we expect from him," Garrett said.
Watson got to use his arm while also keeping the threat of the run game with Chubb and company alive in the 12 play, 84 yard drive. It was a stepping stone—a building black—of what could be to come for the Browns and their offense if they can keep it rolling.
The most promising part is that after that drive, Watson and the offense did keep things rolling, scoring another touchdown—this one to Cooper—and giving Cleveland a commanding (no pun intended) lead over Washington.
While the Browns won't see themselves in the playoffs this season, this game and the next are all about improvement and development. For the defense, for special teams—and of course for the offense with new franchise quarterback Watson at the helm.
"That was definitely potential of what the future can hold. That second half, we were rolling on all cylinders, especially the defense. They kept us in the game the whole time, gave us opportunities in the first half, we didn't capitalize. We got to continue to get better in that aspect. But like you seen in the second half everything was just clicking, the offense, from the run game into the pass game opened up after that and that's what the system allows us to do," Watson said. "Today was a good day to be able to, especially start off 2023 and what the future is going to hold for the Cleveland Browns. It was good to be able to see that happen."
If Stefanski and his staff can call drives like the one above next week and next season, perhaps some fans can find ease and promise as they look to 2023.
"I think with Deshaun, I think we've talked about it a lot. He's getting back into playing football. There was a little bit early in his time in this season where he was just getting back into football shape. So I think all of these games really go a long way towards his progression. As you go into different situations, you get into a two minute drive or you get into a red zone drive or four minute drive, whatever it is. I think all of those reps add up to his progression," Stefanski said.
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