Deshaun Watson getting engine tuneup before Browns-Bengals showdown

Dec. 8—Offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt on Dec. 8 said the Browns coaches expected Deshaun Watson to be rusty when he played against the Houston Texans because the Dec. 4 game was Watson's first in 700 days.

The coaches were right. Watson was rusty. He completed 12 of 22 passes and threw an interception, but the Browns won, 27-14.

Watson will be making his second start when the Browns meet the Bengals on Dec. 11 in Cincinnati. Watson met with the media on Dec. 8 before reporters met with Van Pelt. Watson said his mechanics were off in the Houston game. He is making no grandiose predictions about how he will play against the Bengals.

"It was just more mechanics, just my base, my shoulder plane and my shoulder leverage and keeping that up high," Watson said. "It was just all fundamentals with that.

"I'm just continuing to work each and every day, keep watching the film and keep going to practice every day trying to correct my fundamentals and get on the same page with Kevin (head coach Kevin Stefanski) and get on the same page with my receivers and the offense. Like I said, just keep improving each and every day. That's my biggest task."

Deshaun Watson breaks down getting ready for his second start as #Browns quarterback. The Browns have to beat the #Bengals Sunday to keep their playoff hopes alive.

— Jeff Schudel (@jsproinsider) December 8, 2022

In the buildup to his return last week, Watson tried to downplay the significance of playing in Houston, the place he starred for four years and the city where 25 women filed civil lawsuits accusing him of sexual misconduct during massage sessions when he played for the Texans. It turned out mechanics weren't the only problem.

"Last week, it was a lot — the anticipation to just be back on the field, the anticipation of going back to my former team, the anticipation of playing against former teammates and being in front of a crowd that used to cheer for me at the time," he said. "All of that stuff was definitely a lot. I'm human, so I definitely had things running through my mind and through just my soul in general. I'm glad that's out of the way."

The Browns won't beat the Bengals if the offense produces only three points as it did against the Texans. Donovan Peoples-Jones scored a touchdown on a 76-yard punt return. Cornerback Denzel Ward scored on a four-yard fumble return and linebacker Tony Fields scored on a 16-yard touchdown return. Cade York kicked a field goal after an eight-yard drive.\

The need to score puts a different kind of pressure on Watson this week.

"His past history would say that he's a lot of those things that you didn't see (in Houston)," Van Pelt said. "Those will come back as we get more reps and more game experience with him. It was kind of what we expected with some rust there, and that's real. Just the work he's put in this week to improve those areas has already shown up."

The Browns are 5-7. The Bengals have won four straight and six of their last seven games. The only game they lost since beating the Saints on Oct. 16 was to the Browns, 32-13, on Oct. 31. Browns' leading receiver Amari Cooper caught five passes for 131 yards and a touchdown. Nick Chubb carried the ball 23 times for 101 yards and two touchdowns.

Tight end David Njoku missed the first Cincinnati game with an ankle injury. He missed the game in Houston with a knee injury. He is back and ready to play against the Bengals Dec. 11.

"Any time you can add a body like David's, a talented guy who has production, it's only going to help," Van Pelt said. "Tight ends are generally close to the quarterback in proximity so they get a lot more chances to catch the ball."

Njoku has 41 catches for 464 yards and two touchdown catches. He is third on team in each category.


Browns: Tight end Pharaoh Brown (illness), right tackle Jack Conklin (rest) and defensive end Chase Winovich (knee) did not practice Dec. 8. Winovich had full participation in practice Dec. 7. Cornerback Denzel Ward (ankle, illness) was limited after not practicing Dec. 7.

Bengals: Tight end Hayden Hurst (calf) did not practice. Wide receiver Tee Higgins (hamstring) and defensive end Sam Hubbard (calf) were limited. Each had full participation in practice Dec. 7.