The Texans (1-0) hit the road in Week 2 for a matchup with the Browns (0-1). Here are five things to watch when they kick off at Noon CT in First Energy Stadium in Cleveland.
1) Brownouts – A slew of former Browns are now key contributors to the Houston Texans. QB Tyrod Taylor, TE Pharaoh Brown, OL Justin McCray, LB Christian Kirksey, DB Terrance Mitchell, DB Eric Murray and DB Tavierre Thomas all spent time in Cleveland. Taylor, who quickly earned the locker room's respect here in Houston, is still thought of highly by his former teammates.
"People took Tyrod for granted," Browns QB Baker Mayfield said. "He's an extremely good leader. His work ethic, his routine, being the same guy every single day for every single person in the building. Obviously a great athlete. He's a great quarterback."
Taylor kicked off his Texans career in splendid fashion last Sunday, throwing a pair of touchdowns and completing 21-of-33 passes for 291 yards in the 37-21 drubbing of the Jaguars. Continuing that strong level of play is important to Taylor, no matter who the opponent is.
"The standard is the standard, regardless," Taylor said. "I come in each and every day and try to be the best player that I can be, and just try to lead in the best way possible. Ultimately, it's about getting the team to respond in a way that allows them to go out and play winning football on Sundays, and also getting myself prepared to go out and play winning football on Sundays."
Head Coach David Culley, who coached Taylor as an assistant in Buffalo in 2017, would like his quarterback and the offense to get off to a quicker start than they did against Jacksonville. The first drive in that game was a 3-and-out. But the next three drives resulted in 17 points, and much of that was due to the way Taylor threw from the pocket, and moved around in and out of the pocket.
"He's much better inside the pocket," Culley said. "He is seeing things a lot better. I think being the first game, we moved him around a little bit. He was just a little bit off right there early. He is much better in his pocket presence. I think he is getting the ball out better than he was when I had him before."
2) Run game options – As it was last week, figuring out who carries the ball for the Texans is something that could be fluid. With five backs on the 53-man roster, four were active on gameday last week. Scottie Philips was inactive, while Mark Ingram II, Phillip Lindsay, David Johnson and Rex Burkhead combined for 120 yards on 37 carries and four catches for 24 yards. Ingram and Lindsay each ran for a score, while Johnson caught a touchdown.
Ingram led the way with 26 carries for 85 yards. In addition to his production, the unique leadership he's brought to the Texans has been a welcome addition by Offensive Coordinator Tim Kelly.
"He's brought an edge here in the offensive room that I'm not sure we've had for a while," Kelly said. "He's a physical runner, he's a great leader, he comes to work every day and prepares and takes care of his body. He's everything you want as a person from that standpoint, and then when he straps it on, he's got an edge to him."
If Ingram gets off to the same start in Cleveland as he did against the Jaguars, the run game reps will likely be similar. If not, they'll probably get divvied up differently, according to Kelly.
"Mark had the hot hand," Kelly said. "He was running hard, he was finishing runs, he was dragging defenders. So when that happens, it's kind of like 'Okay, this is the type of game, this is what's going to end up giving us the best chance to win,' and you kind of ride the hot hand a little bit."
3) Protection plus – The Texans won't face too many defensive fronts this season that are better than the Browns. DE Myles Garrett was a first-team All-Pro last season and finished with a dozen sacks. Former Texan OLB Jadeveon Clowney is now a defensive end in Cleveland, and he had a tackle for loss last Sunday at Kansas City. Malik Jackson and Malik McDowell are problems on the interior as well, and the Houston offensive line will be tested mightily on Sunday afternoon.
"They get after it," Ingram said." Obviously, those two defensive ends, you've got to find ways to neutralize them and to make them not have a heavy impact on the game. You don't want them to take over the game because they can and they will."
Kelly is mightily impressed with the Garrett-Clowney tandem, and described their strengths.
"They're both very, very long, play with good length. They have really good explosion and athleticism," Kelly said. "Playing styles are a little bit different, but they're both very dangerous off the edge."
4) Take, take, take – The Texans picked off a trio of Trevor Lawrence passes last Sunday, equaling their 2020 season total in one afternoon. Defensive Coordinator Lovie Smith has instilled the standard of wanting at least three takeaways per contest from his team, and they met the goal in the victory over Jacksonville. Maintaining that standard will be a challenge against the Browns, and while Smith was happy the defense came up with three picks, he believes there is still improvement to be made.
"It's a part of what we have to do to have success defensively," Smith said. "So that part is good. And as a coach, you start looking at what other opportunities that you have. We haven't played our best game, so we will need to be able to do that."
After the first week, the Texans are tied for the NFL's best turnover differential at plus-3, as they didn't give the ball up and took it away three times.
5) Dynamic run duo – In 2020, RB Nick Chubb and RB Kareem Hunt combined for 1,908 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns on the ground. Hunt also caught five scores as well. That tandem also averaged 4.9 yards per carry and was a key reason the Browns won 11 games and reached the playoffs. They wrecked Houston's defense in last year's meeting, as each cracked the century mark in yards on the ground, and they combined to carry the ball 38 times in the win.
Last Sunday in Kansas City, Chubb and Hunt each averaged 5.5 yards per carry, with the former rushing 15 times for 83 yards and the latter picking up 33 yards on six carries.
Playing sound, disciplined football will go a long way towards the Texans defense having success in limiting the damage those two can do running the ball.
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