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Burning Questions

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Burning Questions for Week 13 vs. Texans

Deshaun Watson will make his debut as the Browns look to add to their playoff push


A new era of the Browns offense will officially begin Sunday when Deshaun Watson steps under center and takes his first snaps as Cleveland's starting QB.

The Browns are confident that Watson will be able to provide an immediate lift to not only the offense — which had played well with Jacoby Brissett while Watson served his 11-game suspension — but the entire team as they look to climb from a 4-7 hole and build a playoff run. They need to win Sunday against the Texans (1-9-1) to do that and believe Watson will be prepared to operate after his first three practices back with the first-team offense this week.

He's the main focus of our top questions for Week 13.

1. How will Watson look in his debut?

The Browns believe Watson will be able to boost the efficiency and play options available to the offense, but they also know that it might take time for Watson to fully get back to speed after going 700 days between NFL starts.

Head coach Kevin Stefanski didn't ignore the fact that it's been nearly two years since Watson has played in a regular season game and what that might mean Sunday. 

"It is a totally fair question," he said. 'I don't think I can predict that type of thing, but I know this: He's focusing on his work. Really in any endeavor, you have to focus on your preparation for Sunday. You can't really worry about Sunday until you worry about Wednesday."

Watson and the Browns have both been preparing for this specific week since Watson's suspension was announced in August. Both sides had a lot of time to plan out how Watson would reacclimate himself to the offense, but the Browns could still put a limit on how many plays are on the table for Watson in his first game back and take a simplified approach, one that should still work against a struggling Texans team.

Watson said himself that he won't know if he'll be able to immediately play at the Pro Bowl level he was at prior to his last start, but he doesn't think it'll take much time to settle back in.

"We will have to see Sunday, honestly," he said. "It might take time or it might not take time. I just want to go out there, do what I want to do and make plays as much as I possibly can. Two years is definitely a long time, but at the same time, I have been doing this since I was 6 years old. Just like riding a bike, I'm going to go out there, just find the pedals, get my transition going and then let everything come to me, don't press it and don't make anything bigger than what it really is."

Check out photos of players and coaches working to prepare for the teams regular season game against the Houston Texans

2. How will the offense shift with Watson?

As it pertains to what the playbook will look like with Watson back, the Browns will likely deploy at least a few different looks and play calls that were different from what they used under Brissett. Watson has a mobile element in his game that is hard to find in the NFL, and the offense will be at their best if the Browns are able to maximize it.

That likely means more run-pass options, QB bootlegs and possibly more play-action calls to deceive the defense. They used some of those looks with Watson when he participated with the first team in training camp and offseason workouts, and they should resurface to some degree Sunday.

"We really want to maximize the skills of all of our players," Stefanski said. "Obviously, with the change at quarterback, there are, as you can imagine, certain things that we will do differently, but ultimately, the goal is to win and the goal is to go play good offensive football."

Watson's presence alone should also allow the Browns to be even more successful in the run game. Because of Watson's speed, teams may not have as much success loading the box in an attempt to stuff carries from Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, who were still having success running the ball anyway and have paced the Browns to fifth in the league in rushing.

If the Browns get out to an early lead, they could put more focus on continuing to run the ball rather than use Watson's arm — the Texans are last in the league in rushing defense.

3. Can the run defense slow Pierce?

The Browns defense won't have to battle as many top-tier skill position players as they have in recent weeks, but the Texans still have one proven stud who could do damage if the Browns don't contain him.

RB Dameon Pierce has been one of the top running backs in the league in his rookie season. A fourth-round pick out of Houston, Pierce has rushed 180 times for 788 yards (4.4 yards per carry) with three touchdowns. He's also been used in the passing game, too, and has caught 27 passes for 143 yards with one touchdown.

The Browns slowed down another rookie running back last week in Buccaneers RB Rachaad White, who was limited to 64 yards on 14 carries, and they'll have to replicate that against Pierce for their best shot to cap the Texans' offense.

"I have a lot of respect for how he plays," defensive coordinator Joe Woods said. "He's a physical back. He's downhill. He has quickness. I think he's second in the NFL in broken tackles, fourth in yards after contact and ninth in rush yards per game. He's a handful, and you are going to need multiple guys to tackle him."

Aside from Pierce, the Texans lack other explosive playmakers. WR Brandin Cooks, their top receiving option, is out due to a calf injury. Houston switched its QB last week from Davis Mills to Kyle Allen, a fifth-year veteran who has mostly been a backup in his career. His top receiving options will be second-year veteran Nico Collins and seventh-year veteran Chris Moore, who have caught a combined three touchdowns this season.

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