It’s Week 17 of the NFL season and the 7-7-1 Washington Commanders will be facing a 6-9 Browns team in Raljon.
With the Browns already eliminated from the playoffs, and Washington essentially already in a playoff situation in terms of needing to win from here on out, you’d think that the momentum would be in Washington’s favor. However, DeShaun Watson is starting his 5th game of the season and hoping to continue to knock the rust off. Can Washington beat the struggling Browns to help keep their post-season hopes alive?
To learn more about these and other issues, I asked Chris Pokorny of Dawgs by Nature five questions about the state of the Browns and what to look for in this game.
My responses to Chris’ questions can be found on Dawgs by Nature.
1) With most of a season to reflect on it, what is the general opinion of Browns’ fans about the DeShaun Watson trade? Would you do it all over again if you had the choice?
It has been a weird and polarizing season for Browns fans. I know Baker Mayfield struggled last year (and some of his struggles with the Panthers in 2022 made it look like the right decision to move on), but my heart was in on Mayfield perhaps more than any quarterback the team has had since 1999.
I supported him through his struggles and believed in him to be the guy to turn this franchise around, already having led us to one playoff season a couple years ago. And then, in a flash, it was like, “Nope, Baker is gone, we’re getting Deshaun Watson instead.” Not only were we getting him, but we were paying him a record contract, trading our next three drafts, and punting on the 2022 season because of his (at the time) looming suspension.
I have tried not to answer the hypothetical “do-over” question, but I will say this: I wouldn’t have made the trade at the time, but now that he’s here, I think he can help elevate the Browns’ offense in 2023. The problem? Jacoby Brissett was already basically leading us to a Top-10 offense in the league, but our talent at defensive tackle and linebacker was really lacking. How do we upgrade those positions without the draft picks we gave up for Watson?
2) The Browns have been investing heavily in their defense over the last several drafts, but it looks like their overall defense has been just middle of the pack this year, and that their rush defense has been lower tier in the league. What’s been their issue, and what’s their greatest vulnerability?
As I mentioned at the end of my last answer, the depth at defensive tackle and linebacker is really bad. At linebacker, I should note that the Browns have lost their top four linebackers to injury...but those top four guys were not Pro Bowl caliber players.
Now, we have players off the street at the position. At defensive tackle, we’re starting and rotating a bunch of fourth round picks who the coaching staff seem to sour on every other week for either talent or disciplinary reasons. We had hoped that the investments in players like Denzel Ward, Greg Newsome, Myles Garrett, John Johnson, and Jadeveon Clowney would have been enough to compensate for that, but it hasn’t been, particularly against the run.
When teams make the actual smart decision to stick with running the ball, they move the ball with ease. Teams get in trouble when they start trying to get cute and ignore the run for a stretch.
3) Could you tell us about a young, up-and-coming, player on each side of the ball that most Washington fans probably wouldn’t be familiar with?
On offense, I will go with wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones. He has proven to be a very reliable No. 2 receiver for the Browns, logging 58 catches for 784 yards and 2 touchdowns, and also has one of the league’s few punt returns for a touchdown in 2022. He doesn’t get the best separation on his routes, but he still is able to concentrate and haul in the tightly-contested passes.
Lately, though, the team seems to be giving him some more routes where he crosses the field or catches it over the middle with some space in front of him. Amari Cooper gets the most press among the Browns’ receiving group, but Peoples-Jones has been just as valuable to the offense.
On defense, safety Grant Delpit was making some mistakes toward the beginning of the season, but has started to come on stronger with a few turnovers and delivering some key stops at the line of scrimmage in short yardage situations.
4) Before Baker Mayfield’s arrival in Cleveland, the Haslams were considered among the worst owners in the NFL. Now it looks like 2020 may have been the anomaly, and the Browns are struggling again. What’s the current opinion of the ownership situation, and can you explain Paul DePodesta’s role with the team?
I generally try not to put too much weight into ownership any more. When the Haslams first came to town, they were pretty fickle about the team’s coaching situation and front office setup, but over the past however many years, I feel they have truly stepped back and given the team a chance to succeed.
They gave the green light to acquiring Deshaun Watson, which I may not have liked at the time, but I think they were intrigued by seeing how the Los Angeles Rams were able to get a Super Bowl title when Matthew Stafford joined them. The Browns would be in position to have a younger quarterback for a sustained period of time, so we’ll see if that window pays off.
Regarding Paul DePodesta, there was some story written by a long-time Browns beat reporter recently that made it sound like DePodesta was having more influence on the gameplan on gameday (i.e. throwing the ball more versus running it). I don’t think he is having an impact or much of a say on gameday strategy; if a decision like that is thought through, it’s merely part of the modern day analytics that the coaching staff agrees with. I think DePodesta has more influence on helping categorize the type of players who might be good fits or value picks later in the draft, in tandem with general manager Andrew Berry.
5) What are you expecting the final score of the game to be this week? DraftKings Sportsbook has the over/under set at 40.5. How many points do you expect to be scored overall?
With Washington scuffling and starting Carson Wentz this week, it should be an opportunity for the Browns to take advantage. However, with Cleveland officially being eliminated from playoff contention and the Commanders having something to fight for, I think we’ll see an energy deficit for Cleveland defensively — and although the Browns’ offense should fairly OK, I like Washington’s defense to hold strong enough to allow for a win in a 20-17 type of game (which would be the under, I suppose).
Thanks again to Chris for taking time out of his day to answer our questions about the Browns.
As of right now, Vegas has Washington as 2 point favorites. How would you bet?
This poll is closed
Washington wins by 3 or more points.
Washington wins by 1 point or ties.
As of now, Vegas has the over/under at 40.5 points. Which would you bet?
This poll is closed
41 or more total points are scored.
40 or fewer points are scored.