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Browns Take Next Step in Preparing for Watson’s Return

Browns Take Next Step in Preparing for Watson’s Return

Deshaun Watson isn’t eligible to play until Week 13, but Cleveland is already devoting some of its practice time to prepare for his return. Plus, what has gone wrong this season for the Raiders.

A wild Week 10 wraps up tonight in Philly, in what was supposed to be Carson Wentz’s return to town, but won’t be …

• Deshaun Watson’s return to practice happens Wednesday, and the first steps with him out there will be reacquainting him to calling plays and getting the offense in and out of the huddle at the right pace. That he’s been in meetings for the last month certainly helps.

Maybe the news peg here, then, is this—my understanding is that Watson will get some, albeit minimal, practice reps with the first-team offense this week to acclimate him back to the group and the group back to him. It’ll be important, too, for teammates to hear his voice and cadence, in preparation for his return in 20 days.

Whether the Browns remain in contention at that point is another question. Cleveland is 3–6, with an angry Buffalo team next week, and a suddenly hot Bucs team the week after. If the Browns can split those, and get Watson back at 4-7, they’ve got a shot (they’re only two games out of the playoff picture as it stands today). If they lose both, they’re probably playing out the string, and building Watson and Co. toward 2023.

Deshaun Watson won’t play for the Browns for three more weeks, but he’s set to receive some first-team reps in practice starting this week.

Corey Perrine/USA Today Network/Florida Times Union

• To my knowledge, owner Mark Davis hasn’t even considered the idea of moving on from Josh McDaniels after a single year, and I know conversations between Davis and McDaniels on the big picture beyond 2022 have happened. And therein the sense I get is that the biggest mistake the new Raiders regime has made has come in misjudging the roster.

Coming into this year, with new coaches and GMs in place, both the Raiders and Vikings doubled down on the cores those guys inherited. And in Minnesota, boy, has it worked. From Kirk Cousins to Christian Darrisaw to (obviously) Justin Jefferson, Dalvin Cook, Danielle Hunter, Eric Kendricks and Harrison Smith, the Vikings’ if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it approach has paid off handsomely through an 8–1 start.

Conversely, the Raiders have gotten up-and-down fits from Derek Carr, half-a-sack from Chandler Jones, declining production (pre-injury) from Hunter Renfrow, and problems up the middle on defense and along the offensive line that, internally, they probably underrated coming into the year.

I do think all this was coming from a good place. McDaniels and GM Dave Ziegler arrived in January wanting to find the right people inside the building before looking outside of it, and there are certainly guys (Kolton Miller, Maxx Crosby) who have fit the bill. But along the way, some mistakes were made and the price for those has been steep. So I’d expect a different looking team coming back in 2023—and I still think McDaniels and Ziegler have what it takes to build something sustainable in Vegas, even if it’s going to take some time.

• While we’re there, I danced around this in the column this morning, but after the game, Kevin O’Connell did give me something pretty direct on that decision to keep the existing core intact through the spring and summer. And to get there, he referenced conversations he and I had back then about it.

“I think going back to that conversation that we had, I felt really, really good about the leadership that existed here,” O’Connell said. “When I think about some of the guys that have played for this team for a long time, they are really well-coached, are dynamic leaders in their own right, you can name the names. It's the Eric Kendricks, it's the Harrison Smiths, it's guys like Patrick Peterson.

“On the offensive side, I truly think Kirk Cousins and his leadership ability to overcome adversity has been proven this year. And then we've got some dynamic guys—Dalvin Cook, Brian O'Neill, Adam Thielen. These guys help maintain a presence of poise, confidence and accountability. And then this was a tough football team, no matter how you looked at it.”

Which, of course, has now been proven out on the field.

• It’s impossible not to tie the uncalled 12-men-on-the-field situation in Buffalo on Sunday to a few other things that happened earlier in the game. Like the two red-zone interceptions. Or the offsides on fourth-and-goal. Or the decision, by Cam Lewis, not to bat the ball away from Jefferson.

In the end, these are things the Bills generally can get away with, because they are so loaded, and probably play the game with a larger margin for error than anyone else in the league. The trouble comes when you get too comfortable with that sort of margin for error, and it feels like that’s where the Bills are.

Most weeks, they can get away with it. But eventually, if it’s not fixed, it’ll end the Bills’ season like it did last year. And listening to Sean McDermott talk, and the way he’s directly said in recent weeks that his team has wavered in its discipline, it sounds like he knows it.

• There’s been almost a defiance to the Packers’ commitment to developing the three young wideouts they drafted in April—second-rounder Christian Watson, fourth-rounder Romeo Doubs, and seventh-rounder Samori Toure—and the investment, as we said in the MMQB this morning, seemed to start to pay off Sunday at Lambeau, with Watson’s breakout performance against Dallas.

To be sure, it’s taken riding out some frustrating moments for those three, and Rodgers too.

“It's really just come down to consistency and confidence in myself,” Watson told me. “Because, obviously, no one else in the locker room is going to have confidence in me if I'm not confident in myself, and I got to be consistent in what I'm doing and the way that I'm working each and every day. So I think just being able to go and put my head down and grind and work, both me and Romeo and Samori, all of the younger guys, just going to work everyday, we go with that mentality that we're trying to get better each and every day.

“We’ve got to show it to ourselves before anyone else is going to believe it.”

And as a result, now the Packers’ belief seems to be paying off, too.

Packers rookie wideout Christian Watson came through with a much-needed breakout performance in Week 10.

Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY Sports

• Because we can’t get away from the Vikings-Bills game, there is one other thing to cover from it—the Gabe Davis catch at the end of regulation, good for 20 yards, that may or may not have been overturned on a review. In the last two minutes, all challenges have to come from the booth and, in this case, the booth didn’t call for one fast enough, as Buffalo hurried to the line to avoid one.

After the game, O’Connell, who was standing in the vicinity of the catch/non-catch, said he’d have challenged it if he were able. And on Monday morning, O’Connell’s old coach from his time as a player, Bill Belichick, got his back on that, saying that he doesn’t understand why coaches can’t challenge in those situations under the existing parameters.

"Provided the team has a challenge, they should have the opportunity to challenge really any play,” the Patriots coach said. “I'm on record on that."

So there’s an idea to file away for the offseason.

• A lot of times you hear coaches and players say no one game is more important than the next. So Cardinals QB Colt McCoy’s answer, when I asked him if he and his teammates feel like games such as yesterday’s against the Rams and next week’s against San Francisco are for the season, was interesting.

“For sure,” he quickly answered. “For sure, and we played like it today.”

• A couple of leftovers from what, in the immediate aftermath, looked like a wildly successful first foray into German for regular season football …

  1. Three million people signed up for tickets to the Munich game, which is a pretty wild number (Allianz Arena has a capacity of around 70,000).

  2. The NFL’s data shows it has a young male crowd over there, and ranks as the No. 2 sport in those demos, behind only soccer.

  3. The league is optimistic that the revenue numbers from Allianz on Sunday will be up there competing with any event the venue has hosted, outside of the World Cup.

So there’s a ton to build on over there.

• That the Commanders held Chase Young back a week because the team was practicing indoors, on turf, is just another signal of how teams and players see the grass-vs.-turf debate. And what Washington did there is pretty common with teams bringing guys back from injury.

• I’ve got Rams-Saints circled for Sunday. Both teams are perennial playoff teams. Both have hit pothole after pothole this year. And a loss either way could mark either team’s approach with the end of the season as we turn the calendar to December.

Should be an interesting one.

More NFL Coverage:

The Justin Jefferson Plays You Saw—and the One You Didn’t
• It’s Unforgivable That Josh McDaniels’s Raiders Lost to Jeff Saturday’s Colts
Don’t Forget About Justin Jefferson, Tyreek Hill in the MVP Race
Dear Bears: Sorry About Saying Justin Fields Should Demand a Trade
Midseason Mock Draft: Three Quarterbacks in the Top Five Picks

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