It’s no secret that division rivals love to hate on each other. This is especially true for the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns, AFC North rivals separated by a mere 130 miles of highway. Deshaun Watson added to this storied rivalry with his recent comments during a film study about playing against the Steelers.

On the most recent version of his podcast, QB Unplugged with Deshaun Watson and Quincy Avery, Watson took a shot at the Steelers’ defense for being predictable and lacking schematic versatility while in its base defense. 

“The biggest thing is get the defense in what we want to get the defense in, and that’s a base defense, especially a team like Pittsburgh,” Watson said. “When they’re in base defense, they don’t play too many coverages. It’s very limited on what they’re doing. They kind of very schemed to how they play. So once we had this situation, alright cool, we got them exactly how we want it, and then you just run the play and react.”

It appears that Watson knows what he’s talking about. The play in question was a play-action pass which Watson completed deep over the middle to wide receiver Amari Cooper for a gain of over 20 yards.

The Steelers should be concerned to hear a division rival thrilled about the possibility of facing Pittsburgh’s base defense. According to PFF, Pittsburgh’s defense played in base personnel 35.4% of the time in 2023, which led the NFL. When playing against the Cleveland Browns, the Steelers played in base personnel 35.7% of the time.

Deshaun Watson struggled against Pittsburgh’s defense in 2023

Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) calls out to teammates before the snap against the Baltimore Ravens during the second half at M&T Bank Stadium.
© Jessica Rapfogel-USA TODAY Sports

While Watson may have some insights into how to attack Pittsburgh’s defense, he still had his struggles against them in 2023. 

The Steelers and Browns split their divisional matchups in 2023, with a 26-22 Steelers victory in Week 2 and a 13-10 Browns victory in Week 11. However, Deshaun Watson did not play in that Week 11 contest as he suffered a fracture in his throwing shoulder that required season-ending surgery. 

Watson struggled in that Week 2 performance, logging 22 receptions on 40 pass attempts for 235 yards with one touchdown and one interception. His 55% completion percentage (30th), 5.9 passing yards per attempt (24th), and 70.3 passer rating (26th) all compared poorly against other qualifying quarterbacks that week. 

Meanwhile, the Steelers' defense played well in that contest, racking up 6 sacks and 3 forced fumbles (2 of which Watson was responsible for) on top of the lone Watson interception. 

Both teams made the playoffs in 2023 despite losing the division title to the Baltimore Ravens. They both failed to advance past the Wild Card Round, with the Steelers losing 31-17 to the Buffalo Bills and the Browns getting blown out 45-14 by the C.J. Stroud-led Houston Texans.

There is no doubt that both Deshaun Watson’s Cleveland Browns and the Pittsburgh Steelers are looking forward to playing each other twice in 2024 in what is shaping up to be a highly competitive AFC North.