With Deshaun Watson set to take the helm at the quarterback position for the Cleveland Browns offense coming off his 11-game suspension, the offense will have the capacity to deploy concepts they didn't with Jacoby Brissett under center. Beyond the threat Watson poses in terms of talent, these plays should make the Browns offense more dangerous and keep the defense off balance.
Brissett enjoyed the best stretch of play in his career in the 11 games he played while the defense and special teams have largely been responsible for the team's struggles, prompting skepticism that Watson can make up for the other issues on the team.
No, Watson isn't going to make any tackles (hopefully) nor is he going to hold on any field goal attempts (though perhaps he should). What he can do is help the offense have more successful drives and help the team score more points, which could force opponents to become one-dimensional, forced to throw their way into games. Brissett did well with the offense the team ran, but the Browns weren't utilizing all the concepts they plan to use with Watson as they weren't necessarily a good use of Brissett's skillset. It could help Watson ignore some of the pitfalls that come with having such a long layoff between NFL starts, but it remains to be seen how quickly the Browns will implement them.
The Browns plan to use read plays with Watson, something they never did with Brissett. That should open them up to a number of options offensively, which should help the Browns avoid stalling out on drives. Watson going to have plays where he can give the ball to a back or pull it depending on how the defense pursues and some of those will likely include passes as well, the so-called run-pass option (RPO).
It's something Watson did in his time with the Houston Texans and the Browns have practiced with him. Teams must be honest to arguably the best running back in the league in Nick Chubb. Plenty of opponents have dedicated the vast majority of the defense to do it. The mere threat of Watson pulling the ball and running forces them to be honest and keep at least one defender home just in case.
If there's only one defender and Watson can make them miss, he's going to have space to run. Adding in some of the RPO elements, that could be a quick throw against a favorable matchup. All of this should force the defense to play back a bit so defenders can see it. Potentially more zone coverages, looser man or match looks. It's a great way to beat the blitz if they aren't sound in their lanes or if their timing is off.
This gets Watson moving and they simplify the reads, which could enable him to have early success. Hopefully he's smart with how he runs and takes the approach Russell Wilson often has throughout his career to avoid subjecting himself to unnecessary hits, something he didn't always do with the Texans. Against zone coverage, he can slide before opponents try to hit him while man coverage could yield some seams that could go a long way, not unlike some of what the Philadelphia Eagles are experiencing with Jalen Hurts.
The Browns might employ more two-back looks, potentially including the pistol. They all provide an easy way to present three run threats on a given play, but pistol is the most natural method. There's a lot of creativity that can be employed here both in terms of play calls and personnel looks. They can put two backs in the backfield or deploy an H-back as the sidecar. They can motion the backs themselves or bring a jet or orbit motion from somewhere else that adds to the amount for which the defense must account.
Zone Stretch Play-Action
There are two wrinkles here that change how opponents have to deal with the Browns play-action game. First, run success doesn't necessarily equate to play-action success, but it helps. When Chubb is running well, play-action does get easier. However, teams utilize pulling linemen to force opposing linebackers to make their run keys and create passing lanes even when the run game is struggling. That also looks like an RPO, which can force the defense to treat it as one even if the play doesn't include a read component. That can create passing opportunities behind the linebackers.
The other aspect of the play-action game that has not been utilized with Brissett is off of stretch plays. For the most part, the Browns kept Brissett in the pocket when passing the ball. Contrast that to Baker Mayfield where the Browns wanted to get him out of the pocket to help him see the field and utilize his ability to make plays on the move.
Watson should be the best combination of both. They can have him utilize that stretch look and sprint the other way where his legs become an added threat. Defenses have to cover the receivers because he can throw the ball behind them if they're wrong, but if they don't have a defender accounting for him, Watson is going to pick up free yardage, likely extending the drive.
He can still do what Brissett has done, which is simply recognizing the space the defense is giving him and taking it. That will become much more viable against teams that try to run 2-man looks against him. Two safeties deep, corners with their eyes on receivers and plenty of space for the quarterback to run, something athletic passers have been exploiting.
Expanded use of motion and Anthony Schwartz
The 264 career yards and two touchdowns don't warrant a ton of confidence in what Schwartz can offer, but one of the reasons the Browns have been steadfast in their support and utilizing him when they can is because of Watson.
Watson enjoyed all kinds of success with Will Fuller in Houston. Schwartz has the same world class speed and even when he's not getting the ball, he forces the defense to be honest and creates space for everyone else.
Certainly, the Browns want Schwartz to be a viable deep option and Brissett's deep passing was underwhelming to be kind. Watson excels as a deep passer and that makes Schwartz more dangerous since teams are likely going to be utilizing more two-high looks, it creates space underneath both for the running game as well as underneath passing routes.
They are also likely to use him on screens, bubbles and checkdowns on RPO concepts. If defenses are playing further back because of Watson, Schwartz should have more room to run. It may not always look like it, but he covers a ton of ground in only a few steps and he can gash opponents with the ball in his hands.
The other element that Schwartz brings is as a motion player. Last year, much of that was on jet motion but the past few weeks, the Browns have been utilizing him on orbit motions. Both forms of motion help reveal coverages the defense is running and puts stress on defensive rules. The speed element Schwartz has ramps it up to another level.
Orbit motion against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers forced a corner to bounce out and cover Schwartz, opening up a quick hitch inside. It also allowed Schwartz to be wide open going to the left when he caught a pass for a 17-yard gain.
The reverse that scored the touchdown is yet another opportunity for the Browns to challenge defenses. Defenses have to account for the reverse, which potentially opens up options for Watson to make plays with the ball, either running or passing.
None of this guarantees that Schwartz will make it as a player, but it will give him the best opportunity to succeed. His performance against the Bucs that helped them win the game, it only spurs the Browns into continuing to incorporate him into the offense and seeing just how effective he can be.
The Browns have endeavored to help Deshaun Watson acclimate from his lengthy layoff including having him operate as the scout team quarterback the past two weeks. Starting out against the Houston Texans, currently the worst team in the league while having such a strong offensive supporting cast should also help. The extra element that may allow Watson to make the smoothest possible transition could be incorporating these offensive concepts that create space and put more stress on the defense.