T.J. McCreight is The 33rd Team’s Director of Pro Scouting. He has 25 years of experience in the NFL with multiple teams and has run both pro and college scouting departments. He has two Super Bowl rings.
The entire NFL world—Cleveland Browns fans especially—have been waiting for Judge Sue L. Robinson to make her decision on quarterback Deshaun Watson. The result: a recommended six-game suspension.
What does this mean for the Browns and their playoff hopes? Let’s delve into what they can expect.
The Backup Plan
Jacoby Brissett is a competent backup quarterback. He’s won real regular season games in the NFL. If I were in the Cleveland Browns front office, I would be happy to scrape out two wins during this initial six-game stretch.
A healthy, driven Watson strutting into Baltimore to play the Ravens on October 23rd at 2-4 would be just fine. If the Browns can win that game and advance to 3-4, they’d potentially have two divisional wins with a full schedule of divisional games ahead.
This scenario would leave the Browns at 3-4 looking forward to a home game against the AFC Champion Cincinnati Bengals— with a chance to get to .500 on the line. First Energy Stadium and the Dawg Pound would be rocking on Halloween with the opportunity to even up their record and improve to 3-0 in the AFC North. If your franchise quarterback is sidelined for six games and you wake up on November 1st with a 4-4 record, you’re feeling really good.
How will Jacoby Brissett fare against these opponents to start the season? pic.twitter.com/xqcXeVcKmA
— The 33rd Team (@The33rdTeamFB) August 1, 2022
A Key Divisional Matchup
The Cleveland Browns’ main focus should be on winning two games with Jacoby Brissett. One of those wins has to be against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week Three.
It’s a game Brissett has to win. He could potentially face a rookie quarterback in Kenny Pickett or former first-round pick Mitch Trubisky. There’s also the possibility the job belongs to Mason Rudolph at that point.
Interestingly, both Trubisky and Rudolph have Cleveland ties. Trubisky was a star at Mentor High School—an east side suburb of Cleveland—while Rudolph’s father, Brett, was an All-Ohio running back at Chagrin Falls High School. Rudolph also has a history with Browns star Myles Garrett after the incident that occurred in 2019 at First Energy Stadium.
The Browns must beat the Pittsburgh Steelers during this stretch.
Looking at the Schedule
There will be a lot of drama in Week One if the Carolina Panthers start Baker Mayfield. The game is in Carolina, so that could squash a bit of the excitement.
In Week Two, they’ll face Zach Wilson and the New York Jets. This time at home in Cleveland. Certainly—on paper— that is a winnable game. Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney will be difficult to block. Jets’ tackles George Fant and Mekhi Becton will be in for a long day. A healthy Clowney in early September—and an always dangerous Garrett—are scary for any offensive line and a young quarterback.
Next, Cleveland will be tested in a big way against Pittsburgh, at home, in Week Three. As stated above, this game is a crucial must-have win for the Browns.
The Browns then travel to Atlanta in Week Four. Another winnable game. Matt Ryan is out, and Marcus Mariota is in. Mariota’s main target figures to be Kyle Pitts. He’s difficult to handle, but the Browns’ defense has the pieces to slow him down.
A lot will be put on linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah’s shoulders, but the Browns’ pass rush should put consistent pressure on Mariota. The Browns can also count on corners Greedy Williams, Greg Newsome II, and Denzel Ward to step up.
Their matchup against the Chargers in Week Five will not be easy, even at home. But remember Browns fans, you just need to win two games. This could be a loss, and that could be okay.
In Week Six, Cleveland will head to Foxborough to take on the New England Patriots. This game will be challenging, but it is winnable. Mac Jones has done a nice job, but he is no Tom Brady. Bill Belichick drafted Jacoby Brissett, so you can certainly expect Belichick will have a plan for stopping him.
Something that will be difficult to plan for is the one-two punch of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. Chubb and Hunt will need to carry the load for the Browns while Watson is sitting on the couch.
Both Chubb and Hunt can churn out yards and are very capable in the passing game. I talked with an NFL Defensive Coordinator, and he told me that if Chubb and Hunt were on the field at the same time it would be very difficult to prepare for. Expect the Browns to use both backs at the same time to take the pressure off of Brissett.
The game of football—at the professional, collegiate, and even High School level—is all about passing. The rules favor the passing game, and NFL teams build their defenses to stop the passing game. If I was running the Browns, I would zig while the others in the league zag.
Run the football.
Cleveland has two outstanding backs and an elite offensive line. As teams draft lighter, more athletic linebackers to counter the passing game, doesn’t it make sense to attack those pass-covering linebackers?
Pound the ball. Beat the Pittsburgh Steelers. Win at least two games. Then, get your quarterback back on the field. For the Cleveland Browns, that’s the blueprint.