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3 Big Takeaways: QB Deshaun Watson leads Browns offense in his return

Watson connects with WR Amari Cooper for offensive production

Big Takeaways Week 9

As the Browns marched down the field about halfway through the fourth quarter, QB Deshaun Watson threw a deep pass right to WR Amari Cooper down the field. With a defender on either side of him, Cooper caught the pass for a 49-yard reception and set up the Browns in the red zone. The Browns were then able to convert on the next play as RB Kareem Hunt rushed for three yards into the end zone.

Then, as the Browns defense took the field they continued their dominance, forcing the Cardinals to punt on a three-and-out. As time ticked off the clock and two minutes remained, the Browns defense once again came out onto the field to stifle the Cardinals and keep them scoreless.

It was complimentary football for the Browns on Sunday, allowing them to play off each other's success and lead the Browns to the 27-0 victory.

"That's what we preach and practice every day, playing as a singular unit, everybody being in that flow state, and it all came together," DE Myles Garrett said. "I couldn't ask for a better outcome."

Let's look at three of the biggest takeaways from the 27-0 shutout win over the Cardinals.

QB Deshaun Watson returns and finds his groove

Watson took the field at quarterback for the first time since Week 7 and played his first full game since Sept. 24. He looked to be comfortable in commanding the offense. He finished the game throwing 19-of-30 for 219 yards and two touchdowns. His longest throw of the day he connected with WR Amari Cooper for a 59-yard reception. Watson finished with a passer rating of 107.5.

"I thought he had some really, really good moments. He ran the ball when he needed to, made plays, so I was really pleased for him," HC Kevin Stefanski said. "I thought he looked really good and looked like himself to me."

Stefanski said that early on they wanted to test out the run game, which then played a role in some short early passes in the first quarter. But then Watson threw a deep ball to Cooper with two minutes in the first quarter, which Cooper caught for 59 yards.

"The first deep ball he threw convinced me he was back because if he wasn't feeling good, he wouldn't have thrown the ball deep," Cooper said. "So, once he threw that I'm like okay, cool let's go because I know Deshaun likes to throw the ball deep. That's his thing, so once he threw it, I was like he must be feeling good."

The three days of practice during the week gave Stefanski the necessary information that Watson would be in good shape for Sunday's game. Then, in pregame, Stefanski said that Watson looked like himself. Watson said that it felt good to take the field again on Sunday.

"This is what I've been preparing and training very hard to get back to," Watson said. "Just to get out there and play free and be able to be very close to myself and just go out there and compete and have fun with my teammates, and that's what today brought."

Defensive dominance restored

When the Browns went into work on Wednesday and began preparation for Week 9, DC Jim Schwartz came with a call to action. He was not thrilled with how the Browns defense started the game in Seattle, as well as the final drive that led to the game-winning touchdown for the Seahawks. Neither were any of the players.

DE Myles Garrett believed that the Browns answered that challenge on Sunday.

"We took the challenge that (Jim) Schwartz set for us," Garrett said. "We played with our hair on fire and guys really responded and happy they did to the level in which they did."

And they did. They pitched their first shutout since 2007.

The Browns defense finished the game with three takeaways and seven sacks – which is the most sacks in a game since recording nine against the Bears in 2021.

It was spread around the defense, as CB Denzel Ward and LB Sione Takitaki each recorded an interception. DT Dalvin Tomlinson had 2.5 sacks, while DE Za'Darius Smith, DT Shelby Harris, DT Jordan Elliott and Garrett each had one sack. S Grant Delpit also recorded half a sack.

They also limited the Cardinals to 58 net yards, which is the third fewest allowed in a game in Browns' history. The Cardinals also only ran five plays on Cleveland's side of the field and did not get deeper than the 44-yard line.

Elliott felt like Sunday's game brought them back to their roots as a defense.

"Just re-establishing our identity because the last two weeks, it was kind of leaky," Elliott said. "It wasn't the first five. So, I think this game was kind of a statement for us going forward to continue to do the same."

WR Amari Cooper's continued offensive production

Cooper's success in the receiving game on Sunday played an important role in their overall offensive success. Cooper scored their first touchdown on an 11-yard pass from Watson that was deflected off the helmet of a Cardinals' defender.

It was a slant route, but Cooper said that there was a defender covering the first window; and when that happens, the second window is there to throw the ball. He knew that Watson saw him but didn't want Cooper to get hit by the defender.

Cooper noted the safety and watched the ball pop off the helmet. He was able to follow the trajectory of the pass and grab the ball. Cooper was worried about the corner seeing the ball and trying to knock it down, so he jumped and made the catch.

"(Shelby) Harris said that the football Gods owed us one, so there you have it," Cooper said.

Stefanski said that Cooper and Watson drew up the 49-yard reception in the fourth quarter on the sideline and brought the play to Stefanski. The two of them noticed Cooper getting doubled on third down but believed that how they were doubling him was counterintuitive to stopping him. Cooper said he saw the corner playing outside leverage, and that S Budda Baker was running downhill in an attempt to double-team him.

"I think I can beat them on the post, and he called it," Cooper said. "That's the great thing about Head Coach Kevin Stefanski, he doesn't have to listen to us, he's the play caller but he called it, and it was up to us to make sure it worked."

Cooper finished Sunday's game with 139 yards on five targets and one touchdown. He had a 59-yard reception in the first quarter, and another 49-yard reception in the fourth that set the Browns up for a touchdown.

Sunday marks Coopers' 33rd career game surpassing 100-receiving yards, and his third this season. Cooper's 139 yards is also his highest yardage total with the Browns, and the most since Week 1 of 2021.

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