clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

5 Questions with the Enemy: Chris Pokorny of Dawgs By Nature

We catch up with the head honcho over at SB Nation’s Cleveland Browns site.

For the past two weeks, the Titans and Chiefs were looking to exact revenge on the Bengals and failed. In an ironic twist of fate, Cincinnati is looking to achieve that same revenge against their hated rivals in the Cleveland Browns, who have had their number in the Zac Taylor era.

We caught up with Chris Pokorny of SB Nation’s Dawgs by Nature to preview the rematch coming to Paycor Stadium this Sunday.

1.) Let’s just get right to it—Deshaun Watson made his return last week and it sounded like there were some predictable struggles, even though the Browns pulled off the win. What was seen in his return from a long hiatus—both in the positive and negative? Is there anything there (still and/or right away) resembling his old Pro Bowl self?

CP: When we saw Deshaun Watson for one half in the preseason, it looked like the guy hadn’t picked up a football in five years; he was so rusty. I thought we’d definitely see some rust again versus Houston, but since they have a terrible defense and because practice reports had said he was throwing the ball well, I thought maybe he would build a rhythm.

Instead, it was much of the same, to the point where he didn’t lead any touchdown drives all game. The only element that did look fine for Watson was the pre-snap stuff: he didn’t risk any delay of games, he made a couple pre-snap adjustments, etc. After the snap, though, his throws were often going into the turf, he threw an interception in the end zone, and he seemed to be bailing from the pocket too quickly at times.

On the throws he did complete, it seemed like he had to guide them to a pre-determined read over the middle. There wasn’t a whole lot of positive, and there was nothing that resembled his old Pro Bowl self. If anyone only watched that game and didn’t know anything about his previous seasons, you’d think he was a third stringer on a tryout.

I’m sure he’ll get better with time, but it’s impossible for me to predict when that will be. I don’t expect it to be this week, but who knows.

2.) The last handful of games, save for Week 18 last year, have seemingly been really emotionally charged—with the “backs against the wall” mentality giving the Browns an edge. Whether it was Baker Mayfield struggling and hearing the fan pressure, Hue Jackson joining the Bengals’ staff after being fired from Cleveland, or this past Halloween when everyone was writing off the Browns, Cleveland has responded incredibly well to noise and harnessed it for big wins against the Bengals of late. Is there an external element this week in that regard that we should know about?

CP: There isn’t necessarily an external element this week that’s any different than Halloween night; although the difference is that since Cleveland already did it once, the script sort of flips to Cincinnati, who continued their hot streak against the Chiefs, to finally taking care of the money on their back (the Browns). For Cleveland, it probably goes back to Watson’s performance last week.

Everything on the team knows how bad he played, and I’m sure they know the Bengals will be looking to rattle him. Therefore, it’s up to head coach Kevin Stefanski to scheme up some things that are better at getting Watson into a rhythm, as he works to build himself back up to his former caliber. It’ll do no good if Joe Burrow is throwing touchdowns left and right, and Watson’s answer is the same type of play from a week ago.

You can bet on the NFL and other sporting events at DraftKings Sportsbook.

3.) What is it about these teams, in your estimation, that makes it such a bad personnel matchup for the Bengals? Taylor is 1-6 versus Cleveland in his head coaching career, with the last win coming at the end of 2019 and many of these losses being lopsided. What needs to change for Cincinnati this weekend to flip the narrative, even if temporarily?

CP: I really just think it comes down to the Bengals being a bit dumb (no offense) and not running the ball. Cleveland had some really bad communication issues in the secondary to begin the season, but that has cleared up a bit, and you have to think about the fact that they have two former first-round picks at cornerback, a former Pro Bowl safety, and a rookie cornerback who is having a very good season.

Safety John Johnson also said this week that the Bengals don’t do a whole lot of pre-snap motion stuff, so he feels that plays to their strengths because they like just being able to go one-on-one with their guy. The Browns are not a good run defense, though — even the worst teams can run it at will, and then that sets up better passing opportunities.

Otherwise, if Joe Burrow keeps dropping back, then as talented as he is, Myles Garrett and company just seem to have a leg up on the Bengals’ protection. Run it! (But I’d rather you not run it, lol).

4.) AC: If the Browns miss out on the playoffs again this year, I’d still assume they’d give Kevin Stefanski another shot next year with a full offseason and regular season with Watson, correct? Or, will he have fallen too far from grace at this point? What are some areas of the team that Cleveland needs to improve upon for them to return to their 2020 playoff form?

CP: I think Kevin Stefanski is safe to return for 2023 and get a full year of work with Deshaun Watson. The biggest areas of weakness this season have been on defense at defensive tackle and linebacker.

The defensive tackle position has been really bad, and the big reason for the team’s poor play against the run. The linebacker group has some intriguing young players, but lacks that top tier guy who you’d expect another team to be dying to sign in free agency.

Cleveland really needs to shore up both of those units through free agency next year. The offense isn’t a problem, as most of those guys are locked up to long-term deals, and they were a Top-10 offense with Jacoby Brissett under center. You’d expect that to get even better once Watson returns to form.

5.) AC: DraftKings has the line at Bengals -6 in this one. It’s a pretty lofty line, given the recent struggles Cincinnati has seen against the Browns. How do you see this one shaking out with both teams on a bit of a hot streak right now?

CP: I haven’t come up with my score prediction yet, but if I had to make a decision right now, I would take the Bengals with that line. Cincinnati’s offense should perform better, and then I see Watson struggling again to the point where he’ll look like a wreck and just be unable to match the amount of points Cincinnati is putting on the board.

Our thanks to Chris Pokorny of Dawgs By Nature. Go check out my conversation with him on the Bengals side of things, too!