Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson, in his first full season as the team’s starter, has gotten off to a bad start. His numbers are not good; his passer rating is south of 70, with two touchdown passes, two interceptions, 5.64 yards per attempt, and 4.91 air yards per attempt.
He also looks sluggish when he tries to elude tacklers. He no longer weaves through and around traffic the way he did during his first four seasons. That will keep him from becoming a franchise quarterback once again, if it continues.
As a result, he’s getting criticized. Meeting with reporters on Thursday, he addressed whether he notices the scrutiny.
“It’s impossible not to see it unless I just turn off my phone completely, you know, turn off the TV completely,” Watson said. “But, you know, it comes with the territory. It comes with the status and the standard that people hold me to. So, you know, I don’t look at it as anything bad. I don’t look at it as anything personal. It’s part of the game, it’s part of my level. And it’s part of — you know, I look at is as people hold me to this standard. So I feel like, you know, make sure I play to that standard and if I’m not then I have to continue to find ways to get better. So, you know, I don’t take it personal. I don’t get in my feelings about it. I just continue to keep growing and keep learning and keep working each and every day.”
That’s a mature and responsible response. It doesn’t mesh, however, with anecdotal evidence of Watson launching a Big Ben/Derek Carr-style block party on Twitter.
I noticed various people mentioning on Twitter that they had been blocked by Watson. I got curious. So I checked. As it turns out, Watson blocked the PFT account at some point. I don’t know when or why. But he apparently took something personal, even though it wasn’t intended to be.
The reality for Watson is that he’s still dealing with the aftermath of the events that resulted in more than 20 lawsuits and an 11-game suspension. And he didn’t play for all of 2021 and most of 2022. For some reason, he’s not yet the player he once was.
That’s not criticism. It’s reality. Can he get better? Yes, in theory. But something is currently off. Regardless of how reasonable he seems to be when talking to reporters about it, he was clearly frustrated on Monday night.
The good news for Watson is that his contract is fully guaranteed through 2026. If it wasn’t, he’d be in danger of being released after the current season — if things don’t turn around.
Browns running back Nick Chubb is out for the year after a knee injury he suffered on a hit by Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick on Monday night and Fitzpatrick addressed the play for the first time on Thursday.
Some found Fitzpatrick’s hit dirty because he went low on Chubb while linebacker Cole Holcomb was trying to bring him down and Fitzpatrick said that he made the choice “to go low” as soon as he saw the hole open up for Chubb. He called it “a fast game” and that Holcomb got on Chubb after he’d committed to the tackle, which is why he feels the play was unfortunate rather than dirty.
“I’m a guy that is a competitor, that’s going to go out there and play the game,” Fitzpatrick said, via Brooke Pryor of ESPN.com. “I’m chippy, I’m edgy, of course, but I’m not a dirty player. I’m not going to sit here and defend my character. I know the type of player I am. Chubb knows the type of player I am. I played against him for the past five years, two times a year. And I love competing against him. He brings the best out of me and I bring the best out of him. No chance that I would ever try and purposely injure somebody, always. It was an unfortunate event. . . . You make decisions within milliseconds. You can’t really control what happens after you choose to make your decision. I already chose to go low. Somebody got on his back as I was going low and what happened, happened; there’s nothing I really would do differently. It’s very unfortunate. Chubb’s a great player. He makes the game a lot better when he’s playing.”
Fitzpatrick added that people telling him he should have gone high “never tackled Nick Chubb running downhill before because you’re “going to get concussed” trying to do that and that defensive players are entitled “to protect ourselves” as well.
NFL rules allow for defenders to hit ballcarriers low even if they are engaged with another player. That’s a difference from rules governing low blocks in similar situations, but there’s been no sign that the league is planning to change that rule.
Veteran linebacker Christian Kirksey is calling it a career.
NFL Media’s Mike Garafolo reports that Kirksey has informed the Bills he intends to retire.
Kriksey, 31, has been on Buffalo’s practice squad — signing with the group after Houston released him in August. He did not appear in a game for the Bills.
A Browns third-round pick in 2014, Kirksey played his first six years with Cleveland before spending 2020 with Green Bay and the last two years with Houston.
In 2022, he started all 17 games for the Texans, recording 124 total tackles, seven tackles for loss, 3.0 sacks, and two interceptions.
The Bills are re-signing linebacker A.J. Klein to the practice squad to fill Kirksey’s spot.
The hit that ended Browns running back Nick Chubb’s is legal. Should it be?
It’s something Chris Simms and I addressed on PFT Live the morning after a submarine hit from Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick blew out Chubb’s knee. Whether it was or dirty is subjective; whether it was legal is objective.
It is perfectly legal. Ball carriers can be hit any which way the defender chooses, as long as the defender does not lower his helmet and make forcible contact with it.
Fitzpatrick did not do that. He made a legal tackle. But should that tackle be legal?
A decade ago, it wouldn’t have been a question. But as the NFL became obsessive about blows to the head of pass throwers and pass catchers, other players started to complain that the league doesn’t care about knees. The league, possibly motivated in part by the desire to justify the push for more regular-season games, began to limit the situations in which a player could go low when striking another player.
When it comes to getting a ball carrier onto the ground, it’s still legal to aim for the knees. It’s one of the reasons the running back position is so dangerous, so demanding. So unforgiving. Running backs are like giant magnets rolling through a warehouse full of anvils, and the anvils come flying at the magnet from every possible angle.
In Chubb’s case, Fitzpatrick came in low as Chubb was engaged high. The easy tweak to the rulebook would be to prevent all contact below the waist when the ball carrier is engaged above the waist by a would-be tackler. It would be the same concept behind the chop block, which prevents a player from cutting a defensive player who is engaged in an above-the-waist block.
Whether that happens remains to be seen. The formal, annual effort to look at the rules is months away. Will the NFL or the NFL Players Association prioritize a potential discussion on whether a change like this should be made?
While it won’t help Nick Chubb, it could prevent similar injuries in the future.
Kareem Hunt’s time in Cleveland didn’t end the way either side wanted, but surprisingly, the running back gets a second chance. The one-time NFL rushing champion re-signed with the Browns eight months after he thought he had played his last game for the team.
“I never fully closed the door or whatnot, but I didn’t think it was a big possibility,” Hunt said, via Daryl Ruiter of 92.3 The Fan. “So things work out in situations for a reason, so I guess it was just meant for me to come play for the hometown again.”
During training camp in 2022, Hunt briefly held out of team drills as he sought an extension that never came. Then, during free agency, a report surfaced that the Browns had no interest in re-signing Hunt because they believed his speed was slipping.
Hunt said no fences needed mending.
“We get along,” Hunt said. “I have mad respect for everybody in this building, and it was never to that point. So it was good to see everybody, talk over expectations and things that I can help and just help this team win. I’m willing to come in and do whatever it takes just to help win. My biggest thing is help win the Super Bowl.”
He will backup Jerome Ford this season after backing up Nick Chubb last season.
Chubb’s gruesome, season-ending left knee injury on Monday night is the reason Hunt is back.
“That one hurt,” Hunt said. “Seeing that. I watched it live, and I hate seeing that happen to one of my brothers and the guy that I care so much about and would go to war for any time of the day. It’s circumstances, I guess. God just had a plan to help guide me back here.”