When the Cleveland Browns committed five years and $230 million to Deshaun Watson, they made a huge bet. The hope was that he would return to the level of play that he had displayed over his first four NFL seasons with the Houston Texas, even after him not playing at all in 2021.
Mike Tomlin talked about this on the Mike Tomlin Show on Saturday prior to the Steelers’ matchup with Watson and the Browns on Monday night.
“He looks more like he did in Houston,” Tomlin said. “His ability to extend plays, his downfield accuracy, his downfield abilities, his ability to stretch the field, his arm strength, and field vision down the field. Those things, his willingness and their willingness, to use design quarterback runs as a weapon, to utilize his legs, not only in terms of his ability to create when passing plays break down, but he had a rushing touchdown by design in the red area last week, for example. His ability and willingness to utilize his legs is also something that has our attention as we move into 2023.”
Watson had a bit of a down year last season, as he struggled through the air after returning from his 11-game suspension. He posted by far career lows in quarterback rating, completion percentage, yards per attempt, and touchdown percentage. That led some to question whether Watson was going to be able to bounce back in 2023 and beyond and prevent his contract from becoming one of the worst in the NFL.
Despite not being spectacular in Week One, but he didn’t need to be, as the Browns blew out the preseason AFC North favorites in the Cincinnati Bengals. Watson had just 154 passing yards, but as the Browns were ahead from the jump; he wasn’t asked to do much more than that.
One interesting point, and one that Tomlin touched on, is Watson’s ability with his legs. Even with his struggles through the air last season, his rushing yards per game and per attempt were right on par with his career averages. He picked up 45 yards and a touchdown on the ground in Week One, and this presents a real threat for which the Steelers need to game plan.
If Watson can be even half of what he was with the Texans, he will be one of the better quarterbacks Tomlin has faced who have donned the Brown and Orange.