Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson is going to have a breakout game soon.
It’s inevitable, and it could come as early as Saturday afternoon when the Browns host the Ravens at FirstEnergy Stadium.
“Obviously, we played the Browns earlier, with [Jacoby] Brissett, but they paid a lot of money to Deshaun and have a lot of faith in him, and he’s obviously one of those top-five, top-10 quarterbacks in the league,” Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey said.
“There is limited film, [and] it’s kind of only heating up, so it’s not really the best time to play him, but we look forward to the challenge. It’s good to see him back out there.”
Cleveland (5-8) acquired Watson in a trade with the Houston Texans in March and eventually signed him to a five-year deal, which included a $44.96 million signing bonus and an unprecedented $230 million fully guaranteed.
Watson, 27, missed the entire 2021 season after he was sued by more than two dozen women for sexual harassment and assault during massages. Two separate grand juries in Texas declined to indict Watson, who also settled 23 of the 24 lawsuits. In August, he was ordered to serve an 11-game unpaid suspension, pay a $5 million fine and undergo professional evaluation and treatment as part of a settlement with the NFL.
Now he is back. Well, not entirely, but enough to cause some concern for the Ravens with his play on the field.
“He looks like Deshaun Watson; he looks the same,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “We’re preparing for that. What we’ve seen from their offense in the last two weeks, also the things that he’s kind of been known for in Houston offensively. That’s what we’ll try to make sure we prepare for.”
Two weeks ago, Watson led the Browns to a 27-14 win over his former team in Houston, but his play was horrendous. He completed only 12 of 22 passes for 131 yards and threw an interception.
Some of his passes floated and others fell short of the intended receivers. But what did you expect? He hadn’t played a game in almost two years and was probably battling a lot of emotions returning to a place he had called home for five years since the Texans drafted him with the No. 12 overall pick in 2017.
Plus, Watson couldn’t practice with the team during his suspension. But if the Browns front office was losing confidence, they didn’t show it last week in a game Cleveland needed to win to keep its slim playoff hopes alive.
Browns coach Kevin Stefanski could have named Brissett the starter against the AFC North rival Cincinnati Bengals. He had played reasonably well filling in during Watson’s suspension, completing 236 of 369 passes for 2,608 yards and 12 touchdowns. But Stefanski stuck with Watson, a move that shows the Browns are committed to him regardless of how much criticism they draw from the media and people around the league for the extraordinary trade and subsequent contract.
The deal set the tone for quarterback Lamar Jackson asking for and being denied a similar fully guaranteed deal from the Ravens during the offseason and throughout training camp.
The Bengals beat the Browns, 23-10, on Sunday but Watson completed 26 of 42 passes for 276 yards, including a 13-yard touchdown pass to tight end David Njoku. In the past two weeks, Watson has gotten in sync with Njoku and wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones, who had eight catches for 114 yards against Cincinnati.
A similar connection is expected as Watson spends more time with Amari Cooper, who has 63 catches for 874 yards and seven touchdowns this season despite missing substantial practice time because of injuries.
More importantly, Watson had six carries for 33 yards Sunday and seemed comfortable making plays outside the pocket with his legs. Combined with the NFL’s No. 5 rushing attack led by halfbacks Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, this offense could create a lot of problems once Watson regains his form.
If he gets hot, he could rip apart the Ravens, who are ranked No. 26 in pass defense allowing 249.2 yards per game. Watson isn’t superman, but he is special. Before missing the last year and a half, he was a three-time Pro Bowl selection, averaging 266.9 passing yards per game while throwing 104 touchdown passes to just 36 interceptions.
“He can still do everything that any other quarterback can do,” Ravens inside linebacker Patrick Queen said. “So, the biggest thing with him is just trying to keep him in the pocket and limiting the things he does well.”