The Texans (8-3) host Cleveland (4-6-1) in a Week 13 matchup on Sunday afternoon. Houston won last year’s meeting, 33-17, and has been victorious the last four times these two teams have met. Here are five things to watch when they kick off at noon CT inside NRG Stadium. First Glance is presented by First Community Credit Union.
1) Keeping it 100 – J.J. Watt will play in his 100th career NFL game on Sunday against the Browns. The Texans media relations department tweeted out a graphic of all the things Number 99 accomplished through his first 99 career games, and he’s been remarkable. Three NFL Defensive Player of the Year awards, the all-time leader in sacks per game at 0.88, and so on and so on. He’s coming off a vintage Watt-like performance, as he tallied nine tackles, 1.5 sacks, a tackle for loss, a forced fumble and a pair of quarterback hits.
He and the rest of the Texans front seven will see a Cleveland offensive line that allowed just two whole quarterback hits in the month of November. Nevertheless, the Browns know Watt’s a force with which to be reckoned.
“This Monday night he was as powerful and ballistic as I’ve seen him be in quite a long time,” Cleveland head coach Gregg Williams said. “We have to understand where he’s at all times.”
Browns offensive lineman Joel Bitonio doubled-down on his head coach’s statements about Watt.
“He will take himself out of his gap and make a play in the backfield,” Bitonio said. “He is such a big, powerful guy that you think that he is going to want to try to run you over, but then he will hit you with a quick move, a quick swim.”
Watt, meanwhile, is impressed with what he’s seen from the Browns lately.
“They’re playing good football, the last couple weeks especially, they’ve been playing good football,” Watt said. “They’re putting up points, they’re defense is playing good, they’re playing good ball.”
In two career games—both Texans victories--against the Browns, Watt’s recorded four tackles for loss, two fumble recoveries, a sack and a forced fumble. In 2014, he also caught a 2-yard touchdown pass from Ryan Mallett.
2) Baker the Playmaker – Watt and the defense said their hands will be full with Cleveland quarterback Baker Mayfield. The Texas native comes to his home state with seven touchdown passes and zero interceptions in the last two contests, both of which were Browns victories. The first overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, Mayfield made a big impression on the Texans.
“He’s a heady player from the quarterback position,” Texans defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel said. “He’s got a tough of – we call it, ‘it’. There’s no real definition for ‘it’, but he’s got ‘it’. I think that you saw that when he was playing at Oklahoma and then since he’s come into the starting role, the guys rally around him.”
Mayfield’s completed 62.7 percent of his passes and thrown 17 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He’s also excellent at buying time with his legs to throw.
“When I watch him on tape, I don’t really see a rookie,” safety Tyrann Mathieu said. “I see a guy that’s progressively going through his reads. A guy who takes shots down the field. Everyone talks about his legs, but I don’t think he uses his legs to run. He uses them to throw the ball downfield.”
Mayfield’s been the quarterback in all four Browns wins this season, after taking over mid-game in Week 3 for Tyrod Taylor. He was the starter in the last three Cleveland victories.
“Baker’s a winner,” Texans head coach Bill O’Brien said. “He’s a competitor, very accurate, has a great instinct for the game, excellent ability to keep plays alive. I can just tell you we hold him in very high regard.”
3) Dazzling Deshuan – Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson is coming off one of his finer games as a professional. In the Monday night win over the Titans, he tossed a pair of touchdowns, ran for another, and from the 9:22 mark of the second quarter on, had Houston up by double-digits. He threw five incompletions, one of which was a throw into the ground to stop the clock. Two others were dropped by receivers. He still managed to complete 79.2 percent of his passes.
Cleveland’s head coach has seen a lot of progress from the second-year quarterback, who torched the Browns last season for three touchdown passes in a 33-17 victory at NRG Stadium.
"I think he’s taken the next step,” Williams said. “I think the game’s slowing down for him. You can see that he’s more relaxed. He never did show any stress or panic, but you can see he’s more comfortable in what he’s doing."
Browns linebacker Joe Schobert explained Watson’s escapability, and said the Browns will need to be ready on defense.
“You see a lot of teams surround him, and he is able to kind of escape out from a side or a gap right up the middle,” Schobert said. “A lot of times, he has thrown the ball just as much as running it down the field on scrambles. He is making good throws down the field so he definitely presents a challenge kind of unique to any other quarterback in the NFL."
In four of the last five games, Watson hasn’t thrown an interception.
4) Run game vs. Run game – The Texans hammered the Titans on the ground Monday night, running the ball 34 times for 281 yards in the win. Lamar Miller needed just 12 carries to get 162 yards, as his 97-yard touchdown run in the second quarter gave the Texans a double-digit lead that wouldn’t get closer than 10 the rest of the way. Watson scrambled nine times for 70 yards, breaking loose for a 34-yarder at one point. Alfred Blue ground out 49 yards on 13 carries, too.
Running backs coach Danny Barrett explained “in-game adjustments” on offense were the key to Monday night’s success on the ground.
“We started off fresh, couple runs and then we came back with the same type of plays,” Barrett said. “Blocked it a little bit better, finished blocks and we were able to finish the run like we did.”
The Browns, meanwhile, feature a run game that’s highlighted by rookie Nick Chubb. He’s picked up 663 yards and six scores rushing scores, but also caught a pair of touchdowns as well. Mayfield said Chubb is a big reason Cleveland’s offense has been on the uptick this year.
“He’s been huge,” Mayfield said. “You talk about the run game being able to open up our throwing lanes and play-action, he’s been a huge help to that because teams have to swarm to the ball when he has it. He’s not going to go down by just one guy tackling him. He’s going to break tackles, he’s going to add extra yardage after that first contact.”
Backup Duke Johnson has also run the ball effectively, and combined, the Chubb-Johnson duo is averaging 5.4 yards per carry.
5) Takeaways for days – The Texans have been excellent lately in the turnover differential category, as they’re plus-6 during their 8-game win streak. On the season, they’re plus-4, which is tied for the 10th-best mark in the NFL.
The Browns, though, are the one of the best. They’re tied with the Bears atop the NFL in turnover differential at plus-14.
Houston’s been on the positive side of the turnover differential stat in five of the eight wins this season. They’ve been even in two other victories.
Keeping that up will go a long way toward getting a win against the Browns, who are excellent at getting takeaways on defense.
Check out some of the best shots from when Texans players saw their custom cleats for the first time as part of the My Cause My Cleats campaign.