Browns Better Hope Deshaun Watson Has Immense Improvement In 2023

Deshaun Watson and Kevin Stefanski already are working on revamping the Browns' offense for 2023. (TheLandOnDeamnd)

Deshaun Watson and Kevin Stefanski already are working on revamping the Browns' offense for 2023. (TheLandOnDeamnd)

Browns better hope Deshaun Watson has immense improvement in 2023

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Editor's note: Tony Grossi is a Cleveland Browns analyst for and 850 ESPN Cleveland. He has covered the Browns since 1984.

Takeaways from Browns exit interviews …

Deshaun Watson was no Brock Purdy in his six games after NFL suspension.

He was more like Carson Wentz and Davis Mills and, yikes, Baker Mayfield.

Purdy, the 262nd and final pick of the 2022 NFL draft, relieved injured San Francisco 49ers starter Jimmy Garoppolo in the team’s 13th game and produced a 33-17 victory over Miami. In Purdy’s subsequent five starts, he was 5-0 with 11 touchdowns v. two interceptions, and had a passer rating of 107.3.

Watson’s final statistics after a 700-day layoff were, frankly, pedestrian – 99 of 170 (58.2%) for 1,102 yards, seven touchdowns, five interceptions and a passer rating of 79.1. The Browns were 3-3 in Watson’s six starts and the offense scored eight touchdowns in 24 quarters.

One of the revelations of Watson’s play time was that he was sacked 20 times in 190 drop-backs for a terrible sack percentage of 10.5. Jacoby Brissett, who is not nearly the athlete that Watson is, was sacked 24 times in 393 drop-backs in his 11 starts for a sack percentage of 6.1.

Lest you think the long layoff negatively affected Watson’s sense to avoid sacks, be advised that avoiding sacks has never been a strength of Watson’s game. In four years with the Houston Texans, Watson’s 174 sacks and 9.1 sack percentage were among the worst figures for all NFL quarterbacks.

Nevertheless, the Browns painted a rosy picture of Watson in their season-ending press conference.

“I think we saw a lot of good moments from Deshaun,” said GM Andrew Berry. “We feel very strongly, in terms of really his pairing with Kevin [Stefanski], his skillset adding to the offense. He had his ups and downs throughout the six games, as to be expected. You saw his ability to make dynamic plays with his arms and legs, but you also saw some of the layoff, as well.

“We feel good about the progress that he made. We feel good about the work that he, Kevin and the offensive coaches are going to do over the course of the offseason, and we are very excited about him moving into 2023 and looking forward to surrounding him with different skillsets that will allow us to maximize the offense.”

Pressed on whether Watson should be expected to return to his 2020 form for the start of the 2023 season, Berry answered, “We are excited about Deshaun. We feel good about where he is going to be as we get into the offseason, work through training camp and ultimately start in September next year. We are looking forward to that.”

Watson is looking forward to working with Stefanski to reconfigure the offense to his strengths. He also intends to become the undisputed leader of the team.

“My next step in taking this team and taking that leadership role is really stepping out there and really taking this whole locker room under my wings,” Watson said.

Stefanski’s ability to get Watson up to speed in 2023 and their joint re-invention of the Browns’ offense will be the No. 1 factor in the team’s success next season.

Analytics be damned, full steam ahead

Paul DePodesta, chief strategy officer, aka the Wizard behind the curtain, was not present at the Browns’ season-ending presser. Which left Berry to answer questions about whether the team’s documented over-emphasis on analytics to dictate every major football decision was working.

The Browns have suffered four double-digit loss seasons in seven years since owner Jimmy Haslam turned to former MLB analytics guru DePodesta to revamp the football organization.

ESPN analytics experts have dubbed the Browns the most advanced analytics organization in the NFL for the past two years. Since the Browns’ record in that time has been 8-9 and 7-10, I asked Berry a simple question: Is it working?
A word salad ensued.

“I think it is probably because of how analytics or how data are talked about, particularly in this market,” Berry said. “It is a tool. It is an area of your operation, and it is something you can help to use to inform decision-making in a number of different areas. It is not the end all, be all. It is not a silver bullet.

“It is a tool, no different than areas we have in the support staff, scouting, a consultant or anything along those lines. I know there is a lot of focus because of the [ESPN] article and things like that, but it is a tool that we will continue to use. It is a tool that obviously many of the top organizations use in the league and really is used across every industry. We obviously feel good about that group. They will continue to be a resource for the team across all areas of football operations.”

I asked Berry if there should be an analysis of the effectiveness of the Browns’ analytics department.

“We don’t have an analytics group for that,” he said, laughing. “Ultimately, we will use data as appropriate to try to make the best decisions.”

In other words, there is no accountability for that side of the building.

Brownie bits

Free agents-to-be Anthony Walker, Kareem Hunt, D’Ernest Johnson, Ethan Pocic and Sione Takitaki all said they’d like to return with the Browns. In reality, Pocic is probably the most likely to get a new contract …

Only two players in Browns history have now rushed for 1,500 yards in a season – Jim Brown, who did it three times, and Nick Chubb. Brown did it in a 12-game season, and two 14-game seasons. Chubb, of course, did it in a 17-game season. Chubb had career highs in rushing attempts (302) and yards (1,525) and matched his career high in rushing touchdowns (12). In his exit interview, he said, “Right now, I am exhausted. I am just ready to take a little break and get away from everything.”