Everyone in Houston and Cleveland circled this game as soon as the NFL schedules came out last spring. Deshaun Watson returns to his former stomping grounds as the Cleveland Browns try to mount a late season push to sneak into the playoffs. We caught up with Chris Pokorny (@Dawgsbynature) of Dawgs by Nature to get his thoughts on the upcoming game and one of the more intriguing stories in the NFL this season.
Obviously the elephant in the room is Deshaun Watson’s return to the field. How does the Cleveland fan base feel about him now? Is he beloved or are feelings still mixed?
I’ve tried to steer clear of all the off-the-field stuff with Deshaun Watson. When the Browns signed him, I didn’t like giving up so many assets, and I also didn’t like giving up on Baker Mayfield, who was the only quarterback to lead the Browns to a playoff win since I started watching the team. I felt passionless about the Browns quarterback position when the whole transaction went down, but I felt I could still cheer hard for the rest of the team.
Flash forward to Week 13 and being immersed in the season, and now my mentality has shifted to being intrigued about how Watson can elevate this offense. There’s no way I can speak for the entire fanbase, because there are a lot of mixed opinions; some fans truly don’t want to watch the team any more if he’s part of it. But overall, most of us are still die-hard fans, still watching, and I feel will take that slow approach with buying into Watson.
Beyond that, what do you expect from Watson on Sunday and beyond? Do you think he can get Cleveland back in the playoff hunt?
We gave Deshaun Watson about a half of football in the preseason, and he looked exactly like a quarterback who hadn’t played at all in two years (rusty). I think it’s natural to expect that from Watson right out of the gate, but on the same note, he has the benefit of building some confidence early against one of the worst defenses in football.
Cleveland has had a rough time defensively during their 4-7 start, but the offense hasn’t been an issue. That might make it seem like Watson won’t improve things if the offense is already good, but let’s say that Watson can turn one field goal drive into a touchdown drive each week; that’s an extra four points, which could’ve made us victorious in a couple of high-scoring games. It’ll be tough to climb back in the division race, but the schedule facing Cleveland does leave the door open for it.
The Browns offense has been built around Nick Chubb and the running game. Do you foresee that remaining the same or will they change course?
The Browns have nicely maintained a balanced attack, but I definitely see Nick Chubb and the running game staying a focal point, even with Watson’s return. With Watson, I think you get a chance to be more threatening with the downfield passing game, but it doesn’t mean you go Shotgun and throw it for three downs.
In that balanced attack that Kevin Stefanski will maintain, you simply have a quarterback under center who can hit more long-distance passes than Jacoby Brissett, and is faster when he needs to scramble or roll out. The threat of Watson passing it might also bring less defenders out of the box, which can help Chubb and the ground game too.
Who are some of the other key players on offense and defense that Houston Texans fans should know about?
On offense, I’ll go with wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones. Although he doesn’t get a lot of separation as a route runner, he makes up for it because he is making so many closely-contested catches. He has also become very consistent — if you look at his stat line over the last 8 games (excluding last week), it is nearly identical: about 5 catches for 71 yards. That was with Brissett, but I don’t see why Watson wouldn’t target him too.
On defense, I’ll go with rookie cornerback Martin Emerson. He has been the No. 2 or No. 3 cornerback all season due to various injuries at the position, but he’s played quite well, always staying very close to the receiver and not allowing yards after the catch. He has a breakout game last week against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, logging four passes defended against Mike Evans.
Cleveland is opening as a heavy favorite (-7) on DraftKings Sportsbook. How do you see this game going? Do you feel comfortable taking the Browns and giving the points or are there any other bets you feel comfortable recommending?
Because the Texans have lost so many games by multiple possessions, I think it makes sense to pick the Browns and the points. The biggest thing that stands out is the Texans’ poor run defense, so I see Cleveland scoring early and often for the win.
We want to thank Chris for sitting down with us to answer our questions about tomorrow’s game and how the fanbase in Cleveland feels about their new quarterback. We invite to you visit our sister site at Dawgs by Nature to check out their coverage of the Browns. We wish Chris and the Browns the best of luck for the remainder of the season and we hope to be able to catch up with them again.