Deshaun Watson felt more comfortable under center in Sunday's loss to the Bengals — and believed he was able to play better in his second career Browns start as a result.
Head coach Kevin Stefanski agreed and saw his QB perform closer to the top-tier, Pro Bowl-caliber level the Browns expect him to eventually rediscover.
"I thought he definitely made strides," Stefanski told reporters on a Zoom call Monday. "I think that is part of, like we have talked about, being away and then having that first game and getting that one out of the way. Then the second one, I did think you saw some improvements in decisions and improvements in technique, footwork and all of those types of things."
Watson certainly looked more confident delivering the football and operating the offense. He completed 26 of his 42 pass attempts for 276 yards, one touchdown and an interception, but the Browns know they still have plenty of work ahead to meet the desired offensive results they expected from having Watson on the field.
Despite the progress Watson showed, the Browns still only mustered one touchdown and a field goal in a 23-10 loss. Points were left on the field due to penalties, an interception and one failed fourth-down play inside the red zone in the fourth quarter.
Five of the Browns' nine penalties were called on offense and led to more difficult passing situations. Watson's interception, which also occurred in a crucial drive in the fourth quarter, was a poor pass decision. The fourth-down play, a six-yard fade pass to WR Donovan Peoples-Jones, likely should've been caught and needed to be a successful play for the Browns to have a chance to win.
All of those are mistakes the Browns must clean up to show substantial improvement with Watson in the final four games of the regular season.
"You're going to miss throws. You're going to miss a couple of reads," Stefanski said. "That's every quarterback that's going to happen."
But when comparing Watson's second start to his first last week in Houston following an 11-game suspension and 700-day gap between NFL starts, the proof was there that Watson had found another gear. Sure, the results from Houston — where the Browns failed to score a touchdown — couldn't have been much lower, but the biggest thing Watson needed to show in his second start was better throws and an overall more comfortable feel passing the ball.
Stefanski believed he checked those boxes.
"I think getting more comfortable and then just playing on time, I think that's so much of this game is playing on time and listening to your feet," Stefanski said. "He did that a few times, and it was very, very well done yesterday."
Check out photos of the Browns against the Bengals in Week 14
LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah limped off the field late in the game due to a foot injury. Stefanski said after the game that he didn't have much information yet on Owusu-Koramoah, and he was still waiting for more information as of Monday afternoon.
"Still waiting for final confirmation, so I just want to wait until I get that before I say," he said.
Stefanski also said WR Amari Cooper would be day to day due to his hip injury. He was ruled questionable for the game because of the injury and needed to test the hip in warmups before being ruled active.
Run game struggles
The Browns' run game was slowed to just 71 total yards Sunday, their second-lowest in a game this year. Rushing holes were hard to find for RB Nick Chubb, whose 34 rushing yards were also the second-lowest total of his season.
After a hot first half of the season, the Browns' run game has gone cold compared to its usual standards with Chubb and RB Kareem Hunt. Chubb has eclipsed 100 yards just once since the Week 9 bye week and has averaged four yards per attempt in that span.
Stefanski said the slow game Sunday was due to a well-designed game plan from the Bengals, who now boast the 11th-best rushing defense in the league.
"It is always a combination of things," Stefanski said. "I think first, like I told you guys yesterday, you have to give them credit. They did a nice job. They won a few of their one-on-one matchups yesterday. That is historically a front and a scheme that we have had some success in the run game with utilizing some of those schemes. It didn't happen yesterday, so we have to make sure that we look at it and things that we will do differently next time."