Browns QB Deshaun Watson unfazed by his slow start, confident he and offense will get clicking

Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson is sacked by Pittsburgh Steelers safety Elijah Riley during the second half of an NFL football game Monday, Sept. 18, 2023, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

BEREA, Ohio (AP) — Deshaun Watson has a history of starting slow, just never as a franchise quarterback expected to lift a team, franchise and city to new heights.
In Houston, it was tolerated.
In Cleveland, it’s troubling.
But while some may be panicking over his body of work — now an eight-game sampling — since being acquired by the Browns i n a trade last year, Watson isn’t worried. He’s certain he’ll find his groove eventually.
His statistics are shaky. He’s sturdy.
“I’m always going to have confidence,” he said Wednesday as the Browns prepared to host the Tennessee Titans on Sunday. “That’s just the person I am.”
Maybe so. However, he hasn’t been the Pro Bowl-caliber QB he was with the Texans and certainly hasn’t played up to expectations after the Browns handed him a fully guaranteed $230 million contract before last season despite a legal quagmire after he was accused of sexual misconduct by two dozen women.
Watson faulted rust from a long layoff for his issues in six starts last year after returning from an 11-game NFL suspension. He’s not necessarily making any excuses for two subpar performances to start 2003, but admitted he’s not clicking with his teammates or coaches so far.
“It’s being on the same page with everybody else,” he said when asked for the reason behind his slow start.
Through two games, Watson has completed just 55.1% of his passes, an alarming number when you consider he connected on 70.2% of his 544 attempts in 2020 when he led the league with 4,823 yards with 33 touchdowns and just seven interceptions.
Watson noted that he started poorly from 2018-20 with Houston, and the numbers do support his claim. However, its been more than his inaccuracy in two games as Cleveland’s offense hasn’t shown any of the “fireworks” he forecast during training camp.
The Browns have dealt with some injuries, and suffered a colossal one Monday night in Pittsburgh with star running back Nick Chubb suffering a season-ending injury.
Chubb’s injury will put added pressure on Watson, who said a lack of live game reps along with a change at right tackle and some new players might explain him not being in sync with his line, receivers and coaches.
“You can’t sit here and say practice is going to be exactly like the games,” he said. “It’s two different speeds and two different things. Practice is usually this is what we’re working on, this is what we’re trying to get better.
“But in the game you got to be able to adjust on the fly. So all those things match up together. We’re coming along and sooner or later it’s going to click.”
Offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt isn’t panicking. He’s been impressed by Watson’s grasp of the offense and marveled at his playmaking ability in the loss to the Steelers, who picked off a deflected pass on the QB’s first throw and returned it for a touchdown.
“He made plays in that game alone just to get the escape pressure and escape some of the stuff that nobody else is going to make,” Van Pelt said. “Everybody’s like, ‘the sky’s falling.’ I don’t see it that way at all. I don’t think he’ll ever lose his confidence. He’s a tremendous player. We have all the confidence in the world of him.”
Watson recently began working with a team visualization specialist, who has helped him with his focus — on and off the field.
“We’ve been working and trying different things to make sure that I’m staying locked in,” Watson said. “Blocking out the good, the bad, just staying focused on my tasks and my job. And it’s been helping.”
There is plenty of external noise about Watson, mostly negative.
He’s a polarizing player, and his slow start has only empowered his critics, especially the ones on social media.
“I see it. I hear it,” he said. “It’s impossible not to see it unless I just turn off my phone completely or turn off the TV completely. But it comes with the territory. It comes with the status and the standard that people hold me to.
“I don’t look at it as anything bad. I don’t look at it as anything personal. It’s part of the game. I look at it as, hey, people hold me to the standard. So I have to make sure I play to that standard. And if I’m not, then I have to continue to find ways to get better.”
NOTES: Starting CB Greg Newsome (elbow) and TE David Njoku (rest) were the most notable players not to practice. … WR Amari Cooper (shoulder/groin) and DE Za’Darius Smith (ankle/thigh) were both back after being out Wednesday.
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