Browns’ Hopes Of Starting Season 2-0 May Rest On Deshaun Watson’S Legs As Much As His Arm

Browns’ hopes of starting season 2-0 may rest on Deshaun Watson’s legs as much as his arm

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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.


Four downs on Browns (1-0) v. Pittsburgh Steelers (0-1)

First down: 2-0 mania.

What to make of 2-0? The Browns haven’t been there since 1993. They started 3-0 that third season under coach Bill Belichick. And finished with a 7-9 record. Yes, but what about going 2-0 in division games to start a season? After defeating the Bengals in the season-opener, a win over the Steelers would vault the Browns to a 2-0 record in division games. That’s got to mean something, no? Well, that same year under Belichick, the Browns started 2-0 in division games. And then 3-0. And still finished 7-9. Last year, the Bengals lost their first three division games. And they finished 12-4 (one game v. Buffalo was not played) and won the division by 2 ½ games over the Ravens. So going 2-0 guarantees nothing but a really good feeling for another week. Except for last season in the NFL. In 2022, six teams began the season 2-0 – Miami, Buffalo, Kansas City, Philadelphia, the Giants and Tampa Bay. And all six made the playoffs.

Second down: More play with numbers.

The Browns are an organization dictated by numbers. Whether you call them advanced statistics or analytics, the Browns believe in applying meaningful patterns of data to project or affect future performance. Here is some data on this game. The Browns have not won a regular-season game in Pittsburgh since 2003. The Steelers have not lost a Monday Night Football game at home since 1991. Pretty definitive stuff. But the Browns are not buying it. “We’re not worried about all the history behind all these curses or records we’re trying to break,” said defensive end Myles Garrett. “We just want to be 1-0 at the end of the week. We’re not worried about anything else.” Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said, “None of that is going to mean anything on Monday night. It’s going to be the two teams this year. These guys. Let me know if Mean Joe [Greene] and Jack Lambert are playing, because if we need a plan for Franco Harris or Lynn Swann or John Stallworth or Franco or Terry Bradshaw, we’ll get that ready. But those guys aren’t playing. This is a new year. So what’s happened in the past, that doesn’t mean anything to this game. We have respect for them. We always respect our opponents, but we’re going to accentuate ourselves and what we do well and try to give our best performance and not worry about the rest of the league or what’s happened in the past or what’s going to happen 10 weeks down the road. Let’s keep our eyes on today and Monday night.” For the record, the Browns are favored by 2 ½ points. It’s the first time they are favored to win in Pittsburgh since 1989. Does that mean anything?

Third down: Twin terrors.

T.J. Watt v. Dawand Jones is a scary matchup for the Browns. I mean, a soon-to-be franchise sack record-breaker going against a fourth-round rookie in his second NFL game and first start? Let’s be real. Watt is also a notorious Browns-killer with 15 sacks in 10 career games against them – most he’s had against any team. Yet the matchup on the other edge, Alex Highsmith v. Jedrick Wills, is no less scary. Highsmith had four sacks in the two meetings last year v. Wills and has seven in six games against the Browns. On top of the challenges presented by both pass rushers, Jones and Wills have to compete against the roars of the Steelers’ crowd when it is hyped by the playing of Styx’s Renegade after the third quarter. (This tradition, incidentally, began organically in the 2002 season Browns-Steelers playoff game in Heinz Field, in which the Steelers made up a 24-7 deficit to win, 36-33.) So Jones and Wills have to master the silent count during the practice week to avoid false-starting and putting Deshaun Watson in negative situations. If the Browns win one of these individual battles they might consider it a minor victory. But to win both over 60 minutes? Unlikely.

In his first prime-time game with the Browns, Deshaun Watson will be wearing a white hat, but not an orange jersey. (Cleveland Browns)


Fourth down: Watson under the lights.

This is Watson’s first game in prime time since his life and career changed. He has played two “spotlight” games since he’s been with the Browns – his debut in Houston last year after a 700-day absence from NFL action, and last week in the 2023 opener in front of win-starved friendly fans. In both games, Watson pressed and his throwing accuracy was way off. There were excuses both times – rust in the former and inclement weather in the latter. What now? He has talked about showing everyone he is better than ever. I asked him this week his thoughts on performing in a prime-time game with virtually the entire NFL watching. “Yeah, it’s prime time,” he said. “It’s an awesome opportunity for us to be able to go out there and then show the world what we got, what we can be. But at the end of the day, it’s still football. You still have to go out there and play 60 minutes or plus. And you just got to do your job.” Watson knows he has to do whatever it takes to produce a victory in Acrisure Stadium. I think it’s going to take him making plays with his legs to not only stay off the turf but also to keep drives alive and get into the end zone. Watson’s personal record for rushing yards in a game is 70. I’m going to say that he will need to be close to that figure for the Browns to win.

The pick: Browns 20, Steelers 16.

My record: 1-0.