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Browns are confident in the passing game ahead of Week 2

OC Alex Van Pelt sees importance of having big, explosive plays in their offense

TC Story Friday Watson

The Browns want to let the ball fly.

And as they head into Week 2 against the Steelers for Monday Night Football, they have the confidence not only in QB Deshaun Watson, but also their receiving core, to make those types of big, explosive plays.

During Week 1 against the Bengals, Watson threw a few deep balls in the first half to guys like WR Marquise Goodwin, WR Amari Cooper and WR Donovan Peoples-Jones. While they were each incomplete passes, they were still encouraging to the potential for their passing game.

"We're doing good things schematically I feel like," OC Alex Van Pelt said. "To be able to see the separation in the guys that were open, feel confident that under good conditions we'll be able to hit a few of those."

Watson completed 16 of 29 passes for 154 yards and one touchdown in Week 1 against the Bengals. He had a passer rating of 67.3. But that rating doesn't paint the whole picture, or a clear image for the remainder of the 2023 season. The rainy weather conditions made the ball heavy and slick, which affected both teams in the passing game.

"Offensively, we wanted to, of course, throw the ball downfield," Watson said following the game. "That was the plan all day. I think you've seen it earlier when we were taking those shots, you get to capitalize on them, but we wanted to take some shots and be able to do that. But as the weather got bad and defense playing well, we didn't want to – you got to play – it's chess and you got to play field position and we got to continue."

So, the Browns made their adjustments and turned towards more the run game. Watson also used his legs, which led to a 13-yard rushing touchdown by Watson.

Check out photos of the team working to prepare for Monday Night Football against the Steelers in Pittsburgh

But the Browns need their passing game to be a strong element of their offense to create opportunities moving forward and diversify their offense. Having big, explosive plays is an important element of the offense this season. Head coach Kevin Stefanski knows that those explosive opportunities will be there in some games, while not in others. Monday night against the Steelers could be another opportunity to showcase that element of their offense.

"Bottom line is, we got to always look for those big plays down the field if they're there," Stefanski said. "If they're not there, we have other options. But part of this game and part of every game is going to be trying to find explosives in the pass game."

They also want to stretch the field. Offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt said that while those explosive plays can have lower completion percentages, they'll take the misses to try and stretch the field. And when they do hit those passes, it provides that explosiveness they are looking for in their offense. However, it's also about reading the situation and making the right play.

"The other part of that is if it's not there, it's one of the things we talk about in the quarterback room," Van Pelt said. "If the shot's not there, find a completion at the checkdown. So can't get greedy in those situations. Just have to take what they give you and just keep dialing them up."

The Browns' receiving core has several options that Watson can target – Cooper, Peoples-Jones, Goodwin, Elijah Moore, David Bell and Cedric Tillman. At tight end they have options in Jordan Akins, Harrison Bryant and David Njoku. And the Browns have also shown how they can use RB Nick Chubb in the passing game, as Chubb caught four receptions for 21 yards in Week 1.

Moore and Cooper received the most targets on Sunday with seven each, and they each caught three receptions total. Moore totaled 43 yards on his three receptions, while Cooper finished with 37 yards on three receptions.

Over the course of this week in preparation for Week 2, Cooper said they talked and reviewed each scenario and the challenges presented from Week 1 against the Bengals. They didn't shy away from the impact the weather had on the passing game and their ability to catch those passes.

"It's nothing that you wipe away because at the end of the day, it's football. Those are the conditions that can occur at any game," Cooper said. "We might be playing a Super Bowl in the rain. So no, you don't wipe away. It's a learning experience. You have to learn how to play it in those conditions to be able to win."

In facing the Steelers in Week 2 for Monday Night Football, the Browns will see LB T.J. Watt, who presents a challenge as a pass rusher. Watt has 15 sacks in 10 career games against Cleveland.

Yet, it's not just Watt. The Steelers pash rush also has OLB Alex Highsmith on the edge, as well as their defensive backs that could affect the success of the offense. They can attack the Browns in the pass game.

"Definitely a number one priority for us is to make sure we take care of the edges," Van Pelt said on Friday. "You can talk about T.J. (Watt) all you want, but Highsmith on the other side is a pro-bowler also and is extremely good pass rusher, so not just one side we have to be on point on. It's really both sides."

The Browns have a challenge ahead of them on Monday night, heading into Acrisure Stadium for another divisional rivalry game with a history between the two organizations. Yet, it's also a chance for the Browns to continue to showcase early in the 2023 season who they want to be as an offense.

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