BEREA — The Browns had just put up the best half of offense they would during Deshaun Watson’s six games as the starting quarterback. Amari Cooper, who had been talking about seeing “fireworks” from the offense all season, was asked if the show had finally started.
Cooper, in his understated yet matter-of-fact way, wasn’t ready to brag about pyrotechnics.
“Nah, I don’t think so,” Cooper said after the Browns scored three second-half touchdowns in a Week 17 win at Washington. “Trust me. Especially not with me, like trust me. Nah, not yet. We’re going to get there, though.”
Those fireworks never transpired for the Browns, at least with Watson. The burning question as the offseason passes the one-week mark remains, however: Will they show up in September when the Browns return to the field?
It’s the $230-million question that hangs daily over the Browns, now that they’ve taken care of the most immediate concern of hiring Jim Schwartz as their next defensive coordinator. It’s the reason why they mortgaged their near future in draft capital and sacrificed public relations some 10 months ago to swing a trade with the Houston Texans to bring Watson to Cleveland.
The return on that investment was never going to be fully judged based upon the small sample size produced in Watson’s first season with the Browns. Once his suspension by the NFL due to the more than two dozen allegations of sexual assault and sexual misconduct during massage appointments was raised from six games to 11 through a settlement, that became almost a foregone conclusion.
However, there’s no question the Watson the Browns saw in the final six games of the season did not produce the “fireworks” of which Cooper spoke. He completed just 58.2% of his 170 pass attempts for 1,102 yards with seven touchdowns and five interceptions.
“Of course, I didn’t meet the expectations,” Watson said a day after the season ended. “Of course, we wanted to try to find our way into the playoffs and have extended games and opportunity to clinch the division, all these different things. But as far as just being able to play football again, get out there and knock some rust off, have some ups, have some downs, have some in-betweens and kind of really get the feel of how we want to operate as an offense and what we want to look forward to as a Cleveland Brown, I definitely did that.”
It was beyond just Watson, though, where the offense seemed to stagnate in those final six games. The Browns went from averaging 23.9 points, 376.9 total yards and 222.5 passing yards a game through the first 11 games, to 16.3 points, 298 total yards and 166 passing yards a game over the final six games.
Again, not “fireworks.” In fact, they were barely sparklers.