On Monday Night Football against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson put his team in a hole offensively due to silly facemask penalties as a runner.
Watson did it twice against in a 26-22 loss, putting Cleveland behind the chains on both occasions. One came against Pittsburgh’s Kwon Alexander on the Steelers’ sideline that resulted in an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. The other came against rookie pass rusher Nick Herbig in the fourth quarter, putting Cleveland in a third and long.
After the loss to Pittsburgh, Watson placed some blame on the Steelers defenders for the penalties, stating to reporters that they only occurred because the defenders grabbed his arm, leading to his fingers getting stuck in the facemasks.
“…As far as the facemask and things like that, I’m stiff-arming just like everyone else. And once they grab my arm as I’m running, they keep pushing, [so the] only way I can really let go is to swing across. And once they do that, my hand is stuck in their helmet or in their face mask, so I gotta do a better job of just hitting ’em with the palm, I guess, and just releasing as much as I can so we don’t get those penalties,” Watson told reporters following the loss, according to video via the Browns Twitter page. “But as far as just the unsportsmanlike conduct and things like that, no, I’m not trying to do anything like that. I’ve never been that type of person, never been that type of player. And I spoke with the ref, and we were going back and forth on a good conversation, and he just let me know that it’s hard for them to see things like that.”
On a second and 10 with 5:09 left in the third quarter, Watson found himself running to his left trying to create a play with his legs.
Alexander closed quickly and was able to fend off a stiff-arm from Watson and drive him out of bounds. As that occurred, Watson gave a little extra at the end to Alexander, throwing him out of the way by his helmet, causing a bit of a kerfuffle on the Steelers’ sideline, drawing a flag on Watson.
The penalty forced the Browns into a third and 25, which ultimately led to a punt.
Watson wasn’t done with the silly mistakes as a runner.
Early in the fourth quarter with the Browns holding a 22-19 lead and trying to mount a drive to try and put the game away, Watson got out of a sack attempt from rookie outside linebacker Nick Herbig with a strong stiff-arm. But Watson got ahold of too much facemask throwing Herbig out of the way. That resulted in another brutal 15-yard penalty that turned a third and 11 into a third and 26.
On the very next play, Steelers linebacker Cole Holcomb punched the ball out of tight end David Njoku’s hands for a big fumble near midfield, seizing momentum for the Steelers.
Watson trying to place blame on the Steelers defenders for grabbing his arm as reasoning behind his facemask penalties is rather rich. Defenders are taught to grab the arm when they get caught with a stiff-arm to try and use the body part to their advantage from a tackling perspective. The defenders didn’t force Watson to clutch and grab the facemask; that was all him.
And it cost the Browns twice in big, big spots.