Browns' Dawand Jones holds own vs. T.J. Watt, but there were lessons in loss to Steelers

Cleveland Browns tackle Dawand Jones (79) watches as quarterback Deshaun Watson fumbles the ball while being sacked by Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Alex Highsmith (56) on Monday in Pittsburgh. Steelers linebacker T.J. Watt (90) recovered the fumble and returned it for a touchdown.

PITTSBURGH — On “Monday Night Football,” the 6-foot-8, 374-pound Dawand Jones played the role of David instead of Goliath.

Although Jones possesses a giant's build, the Browns rookie offensive lineman was cast as an underdog against one of the NFL's best edge rushers, Pittsburgh Steelers five-time Pro Bowl and three-time first-team All-Pro selection T.J. Watt.

It was a matchup everyone involved with the Browns had been anticipating since right tackle Jack Conklin suffered season-ending torn knee ligaments early in the second quarter of the Sept. 10 opener and Jones answered the bell in the two-time All Pro's spot.

It was also the epitome of a baptism by fire for Jones in the first start of his professional career, one most people will remember as the game in which Browns four-time Pro Bowl running back Nick Chubb suffered a season-ending knee injury.

Cleveland Browns offensive tackle Dawand Jones (79) looks on Monday night in Pittsburgh.

A fourth-round draft pick (No. 111 overall) out of Ohio State, Jones held his own against Watt in the Browns' 26-22 prime-time loss to the AFC North rival Steelers at Acrisure Stadium. The Steelers finished with six sacks and 11 quarterback hits, but only one sack was the result of Jones being beaten by Watt.

"I think he's a good player," Watt said of the Jones. "I think he has a bright future — definitely very long.

"I just think it's a tough night anytime you're getting chipped 90% of the time."

Now the Browns (1-1) have a short turnaround before a home game Sunday against the Tennessee Titans (1-1).

Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Alex Highsmith (56) and linebacker T.J. Watt (90) wrap up Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) on Monday in Pittsburgh.

The Browns lost their 20th consecutive regular-season game held in Pittsburgh, a stretch originating on Oct. 5, 2003. Meanwhile, the Steelers (1-1) extended their winning streak in “Monday Night Football” games at home to 21. They haven't lost any such game since Oct. 14, 1991.

For deeper context, the Browns captured a 48-37 road win over the Steelers in a wild-card playoff game on Jan. 10, 2021, but COVID-19 restrictions limited attendance to the family and friends of the teams. So this means the Browns will go 20 years without prevailing in Pittsburgh in front of a legitimate crowd.

Jones, 22, faced Watt on most plays and proved to be respectable. He's a better pass protector than run blocker in the infancy of his career, and it showed throughout the game.

"You could tell he was ready today," said Steelers edge rusher Markus Golden, who lined up across from Jones several times. "He came out there and was competing and going hard. He's got a motor and a lot of energy, man, and I respect that from any rookie.

"There's not many [players] in the league his size. If he can keep working hard with that size, he's got a bright future, for sure. I give him respect. He came out there and battled. That's all you can expect, especially from a rookie. He did good. I give him credit."

Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) is pressured in his own end zone by Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker T.J. Watt (90) Monday night in Pittsburgh.

Overall, Jones looked like he belonged and played with confidence. With Styx's "Renegade" blaring with 9:01 left in the fourth quarter, Jones bobbed his head along with the music, slapped hands with a teammate and motioned to Steelers fans to bring the noise.

He might not be so bold next time.

Five plays later, Browns left tackle Jedrick Wills Jr. surrendered a strip-sack to edge rusher Alex Highsmith. After Highsmith forced quarterback Deshaun Watson to fumble, Watt scooped up the ball and returned it 17 yards for a touchdown, and the Steelers went ahead 26-22 with 6:58 left to play.

Later, with 2:55 remaining, a Browns drive began with a false start penalty on Jones, pushing them back 5 yards and setting up setting up first-and-15 at the Cleveland 20-yard line. The same possession ended with Watson throwing incomplete on fourth-and-9 at the Pittsburgh 49 for a game-clinching turnover on downs with 1 minute left.

Watson wasn't good enough. He went 22-of-40 passing (55%) for 235 yards and a touchdown with an interception for a rating of 70.3. He also lost two fumbles and rushed six times for 22 yards.

Pittsburgh Steelers linebackers Alex Highsmith (56) and T.J. Watt (90) celebrate a second-quarter tackle against the Cleveland Browns Monday in Pittsburgh.

After Conklin's most recent significant injury, the Browns could have turned to James Hudson III, a fourth-round choice out of Cincinnati in 2021. Hudson started seven games in his first two seasons with injuries plaguing Conklin.

However, Jones received the nod not only because of his impressive combination of size and footwork, but also due to the tremendous progress he's shown since May, when he reported to rookie minicamp out of shape and vomited during his first Browns practice.

After Watson threw a deflected interception returned 30 yards for a touchdown by Highsmith on the game's first play from scrimmage, Jones committed a rookie mistake on Cleveland's second possession.

Cleveland Browns offensive tackle Dawand Jones (79) pass blocks at the line of scrimmage against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday in Pittsburgh.

On second-and-7 at the Pittsburgh 24, Jones had defensive end Larry Ogunjobi, formerly of the Browns, sealed off from a hole through which Chubb rushed for 7 yards. However, Jones unnecessarily held and drew a penalty for it. The flag pushed the Browns back to the 34, and they eventually settled for Dustin Hopkins' 43-yard field goal and a 7-3 deficit with 8:46 remaining in the opening quarter.

Late in the first quarter, the Browns went for it on fourth-and-1 at the Pittsburgh 43, and Jones unsuccessfully attempted to cut block nose tackle Montravius Adams Sr., who made the tackle and forced Watson to fumble after the QB appeared to gain a first down. After a replay review, the officials determined Ogunjobi recovered the fumble at the Pittsburgh 42 with 22 seconds left in the first quarter.

Fortunately for the Browns, they got the ball back right away when cornerback Denzel Ward forced wide receiver Gunner Olszewski to fumble, safety Grant Delpit recovered and Cleveland kept possession after Delpit's fumble resulted in the ball going out of bounds at the Pittsburgh 23.

Cleveland Browns running back Nick Chubb is carted off the field with an injury against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday in Pittsburgh.

When Chubb suffered his gruesome knee injury during a 5-yard run on first-and-goal at the 8, Jones blocked Watt, who's 6-4 and 252 pounds. Linebacker Cole Holcomb wrapped up Chubb high while safety Minkah Fitzpatrick crashed into Chubb's left knee with 14:14 left in the second quarter. Chubb was carted off the field.

Jones pass blocked well against Watt for the vast majority of the first half. On many occasions, the Browns provided Jones assistance with chipping from tight ends or running backs and quick passing by Watson. Michael Dunn also moonlighted as an extra tackle in jumbo packages and offered some help against Watt.

"I felt like I played solid going against a Pro Bowl, All-Pro pass rusher," Jones said. "I got a lot of help tonight, but for the most part, I think I held my own, did all right. It's a stepping stone."

Cleveland Browns running back Pierre Strong Jr. (20) and offensive tackle Dawand Jones (79) congratulate quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) on his two-point conversion against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday in Pittsburgh.

Watt is almost never shut out against the Browns, and he became the Steelers' all-time sack leader late in the second quarter, surpassing Akron native James Harrison with 81.5 career sacks.

On third-and-7 at the Pittsburgh 30, Watt used a speed rush to zoom around Jones and register the record-setting sack, leaving Watson slow to rise after the play. Watson didn't miss a snap, though. On the next down, Hopkins made a 55-yard field goal, trimming the Browns' deficit to 16-14 with 22 seconds left before halftime.

Watt finished with one sack and three more quarterback hits.

"[Watt's] just relentless," Jones said. "He chased down one of [the sacks] on me. It's just something I'm not used to, something I'm going to have to keep practicing. But besides that, I feel like I played pretty well. I'm definitely sad that we didn't get the [win]. That hurts me the most, honestly. The team comes first before anything."

Cleveland Browns running back Jerome Ford runs against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday in Pittsburgh.

Early in the third quarter, Jerome Ford rushed 69 yards to the Pittsburgh 1, and fellow reserve running back Pierre Strong Jr. ran for a 1-yard touchdown with 10:01 left in the third quarter. The involvement of Jones with those plays was minimal, but he blocked Watt as Watson rushed off the right side for a two-point conversion, giving the Browns a 22-19 edge.

Watt, 28, has haunted the Browns since the Steelers drafted him in the first round out of Wisconsin in 2017 (No. 30 overall).

The NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2021, Watt entered Monday's showdown with 15 sacks and 24 quarterback hits in 10 regular-season games against the Browns. He had gone without a sack in just two games versus the Browns, a 38-7 Steelers win on Oct. 18, 2020, and Pittsburgh's playoff loss to Cleveland three seasons ago.

Watt has compiled more sacks against the Browns than any other opponent, with divisional foes Baltimore (12) and Cincinnati (nine) second and third.

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Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker T.J. Watt (90) attempts to rush while being blocked by Cleveland Browns tight end David Njoku (85) on Monday in Pittsburgh.

A review of those splash plays against the Browns provided the following reminders:

  • Watt beat Hudson for 4.5 sacks, including four in a 26-14 Steelers win on Jan. 3, 2022, prompting former Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield to publicly criticize the game plan devised by coach Kevin Stefanski and his staff.

  • Watt defeated double-teams by a combination of tackles, tight ends or running backs en route to three sacks.

  • Watt produced sacks on plays in which he lined up against tight ends David Njoku, Darren Fell and Pharaoh Brown and tackles Joe Thomas, Spencer Drango, Chris Hubbard, Blake Hance, Conklin, and Hudson. Of those players, only Njoku, Conklin and Hudson are still with the Browns.

  • Watt's two half sacks were assisted by Steelers defensive tackle Cameron Heyward, who missed Monday night's game and landed on injured reserve last week after undergoing groin surgery.

  • Watt sacked DeShone Kizer, Tyrod Taylor, Baker Mayfield and Watson.

Given Watt's elite abilities and extensive history of tormenting the Browns, Jones fared well enough to prevent one of the sport's best defenders from wrecking the game.

Nick Chubb's season-ending injury: Brutal hit on running back's knee leaves Browns 'speechless.' And the Steelers show respect

Nate Ulrich can be reached at On Twitter: @ByNateUlrich.

This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Browns' Dawand Jones held own vs. T.J. Watt in Steelers win