The last time we went to Cleveland, less than a year ago, a hurricane ran into a hail storm which brought sideways rain. Then, the 45-50 mph winds hung around and eliminated any chance of a passing game in a 10-7 Browns win. At first glance, the weather doesn't appear to be a major player for this matchup...thankfully. Having experienced that last year, I'll kiss the sun rays that shine down upon FirstEnergy Stadium on Sunday. As such, both phases of offense should be available to each team, unlike that matchup last year.
The Browns came out of the gate HOT last week in Kansas City, jumping out to a 22-10 lead in the first half. Then, Tyreek caught a deep ball for a touchdown, the Browns punter dropped a punt and Travis Kelce caught the game winner to beat the Browns 33-29. It was truly evident that the Browns had every single opportunity to steal that game from the 2x defending AFC Champs yet couldn't close the deal. So, the Browns open their home campaign trying to even their record at 1-1 facing the 1-0 Texans.
There was a lot of good for the Browns last Sunday. A LOT. They averaged nearly six yards per carry. QB Baker Mayfield threw for 321 yards. The Browns defense held the Chiefs to 3.2 yards per carry and sacked Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes twice. There was a lot of good to take from the matchup in Arrowhead that should worry the Texans. But, the Texans won't be going to Cleveland to lie down and let the Browns have a party at their expense. It's going to be gritty and grimy with two physical teams doing battle, hopefully with the sun out and two teams looking to make a statement about where this season is headed.
That all said, let's get to Know Week Two Foe - the Cleveland Browns.
2021 Schedule (0-1)
Week 1 - L @ Kansas City Chiefs 33-29
Week 2 - Houston Texans
Week 3 - Chicago Bears
Week 4 - @ Minnesota Vikings
Week 5 - @ Los Angeles Chargers
Week 6 - Arizona Cardinals
Week 7 - Denver Broncos
Week 8 - Pittsburgh Steelers
Week 9 - @ Cincinnati Bengals
Week 10 - @ New England Patriots
Week 11 - Detroit Lions
Week 12 - @ Baltimore Ravens
Week 13 - BYE
Week 14 - Baltimore Ravens
Week 15 - Las Vegas Raiders
Week 16 - @ Green Bay Packers
Week 17 - @ Pittsburgh Steelers
Week 18 - Cincinnati Bengals
Browns OFFENSE (in 2021 regular season)
Rushing Yards Per game - 153.0 ypg (6th in the NFL)
Passing Yards Per game - 304.0 ypg (11th)
Total offense per game - 457.0 ypg (2nd)
Turnovers lost - 2 (1 Fumble lost, 1 INT)
Expected Browns starting offense for Week One
QB - Baker Mayfield
RB - Nick Chubb
WR - Jarvis Landry
WR - ANTHONY SCHWARTZ
TE - Austin Hooper
TE - David Njoku
LT - Jedrick Wills
LG - Joel Bitonio
C - J.C. Tretter
RG - Wyatt Teller
RT - Jack Conklin
Key Offensive Non-Starters
TE - Harrison Bryant
RB - Kareem Hunt
WR - Donovan Peoples-Jones
WR - Rashard Higgins
RB - D'Earnest Johnson
Italics - Rookie
ALL CAPS - New to team in 2021
Keys to winning v. the Browns Offense
1. BIG BOY PADS NEEDED - Browns RB Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt are always fresh. Not like Will Smith, the Fresh Prince, but condition-wise, these two never take a snap fatigued. One guy pounds the rock for a play or a series. The other comes in to spell him. Rinse, lather and repeat. As we saw last year in Cleveland, there's always a fresh running back late in the fourth quarter, not to mention, they're already ULTRA-difficult to tackle in the first place. As such, finishing tackles against this two headed monster is THE number one task on the Texans' defensive board this weekend.
2. May the Schwartz NOT be with you - The movie spoof Spaceballs made this Schwartz reference as an homage to Star Wars a few decades ago. Well, I absolutely do NOT want to see the Schwartz with the Force. Browns rookie WR Anthony Schwartz might be the fastest player in the NFL and, with OBJ on the shelf last week, the Browns unleashed him on the Chiefs. He had a 44 yard catch. He had a 17 yard reverse. The 44-yard catch came out of the Browns 13 personnel (one RB, three TE) and they set him up to succeed beautifully. The Texans defense has to slow down The Schwartz any way they know how, but mainly they can't let him get over the top as Jacksonville's D.J. Chark did last week.
3. Fight smarter, not harder - The Texans defensive interior played relatively well against the Jaguars, but the Browns G-C-G trio is at a different level. G Wyatt Teller, G Joel Bitonio and C J.C. Tretter mash, truly freaking mash, defenders at the point of attack. Teller attempts to put guys through the turf and the other two have enough barroom brawler in them to do the same. But, the Texans interior doesn't have to play their game. They WANT the Texans to try to swap paint and deliver body blows, but the Texans have quickness and twitch on their side. Use it. Beat them with quickness, use athleticism to win leverage battles. Don't get in a phone booth when it's not necessary.
4. 12 or 13, whatever it takes - the Browns' use of tight ends can change the game and they're not scared to use up to 13 personnel with three tight ends (David Njoku, Harrison Bryant and Austin Hooper) on the field at any one time. Using all three forces defenses into a tough decision - play base on them and one of those tight ends is matched up on a linebacker or down safety. Get cute with additional defensive backs on the field and they'll pound the rock with a numbers advantage in the front. The Texans will need an answer for these tight ends to say the least.
5. Baker - I've been a fan of Browns QB Baker Mayfield for a long time. His confidence is not off-putting to me and I see how it impacts their offense in a positive way. Yet, he still makes mistakes that derail the offense at key points in the game. Case in point, last week in the opener at Kansas City, he threw an interception as he was falling down, trying to throw the ball out of bounds. The Browns' last hope was extinguished when Chiefs CB Mike Hughes made the easy interception with just over a minute remaining in the game. That interception aside, Mayfield doesn't get too rattled under pressure and makes relatively good decisions. But, that one (or more) time(s) he doesn't, the Texans must capitalize.
Browns DEFENSE (in 2021 regular season)
Rushing Yards Allowed Per game - 73.0 ypg (7th in the NFL)
Passing Yards Allowed Per game - 324.4 ypg (27th)
Total offense Allowed per game - 397.0 ypg (19th)
Turnovers generated - 0 (0 INT, 0 Fumble recoveries - Browns are -2 in TO margin)
Expected Browns starting defense for Week One
DE - Myles Garrett
DT - MALIK McDOWELL
DT - MALIK JACKSON
DE - JADEVEON CLOWNEY
LB - Mack Wilson
LB - ANTHONY WALKER
CB - _GREG NEWSOME _
CB - Denzel Ward
S - Ronnie Harrison Jr (ejected last week)
S - JOHN JOHNSON III
CB - TROY HILL
Key Defensive Non-Starters
LB/S - JEREMIAH OWUSU-KORAMOAH
CB - M.J. Stewart
LB - Sione Takitaki
DE - TAKK McKINLEY
DE - JOE JACKSON
LB - Malcolm Smith
DL - Jordan Elliott
DT - Andrew Billings
Italics - Rookie
ALL CAPS - New to team in 2021
Keys to winning v. the Browns Defense
1. Pride won't block anyone - I have never lived in an offensive tackle's world but I can imagine there's some level of pride in blocking Pro Bowl edge defenders in one-on-one situations. Browns uber-stud edge rusher Myles Garrett is as dangerous a defender as the Texans are going to face all season long. He can absolutely, 1000% ruin the game, especially blazing the edge against a tackle still recovering from COVID (Laremy Tunsil) and/or a tackle playing his first football in 20 months (Marcus Cannon). In short, Garrett demands help to keep him at bay and that goes for when he loops inside against the Texans guards too. Fully healthy, Tunsil can block anyone in this league one-on-one, but with Laremy still trying to get back to 100%, it's okay to give him help when needed on Garrett.
2. We know him - Now, helping the tackle/tight end/edge protector to Garrett's side can't be a 100% absolute, every single time situation. Why? Well, we know the guy on the other side is capable of wrecking plays in a blink too - Jadeveon Clowney. Watching him against the Chiefs, he looked spry and in much better shape than he was in 2020 playing for the Titans. Not to mention, he's going to want to make a statement against the Texans. Prevent the inside move and make him go the long way and there's a chance in one-on-one situations. Let him have the inside with that arm over move and he'll eat all day long. Let's starve him.
3. Keep Cooks-in' - Going into the opener against Jacksonville, I was convinced that the Jaguars would completely and totally attempt to take WR Brandin Cooks out of the game. Double him. Roll safeties over him. Anything to put the passing game onus on some other receiver. Yet, #13 just kept on making one big play after another. This matchup is different because Browns CB Denzel Ward will want that smoke of tangling with Cooks one-on-one. So, let's go. Mano a mano, let's keep Cooks-in'.
4. What's good for the goose… - The Browns use their triumvirate of tight ends as well as any team in the NFL and have three excellent ones as noted above. However, the Texans tight ends showed last week that they provide the Texans with plenty of options as well. Pharaoh Brown was magnificent and Jordan Akins hasn't been completely unleashed yet. Just as the Browns can utilize their tight ends to complement their run game, the Texans can put pressure on the Browns' LB/S with their duo as well.
5. Keep them guessing - The Texans carried four RB on the gameday roster and OC Tim Kelly and RB Danny Barrett used them masterfully. In week one, RB Mark Ingram II was the hammer but it might be one of the other three this week. Either way, I love the pressure this quartet put on the Jaguars and hope they'll do the same in Cleveland against that Browns defense.
Join us at home for Thursday Night Football at NRG Stadium on September 23 at 7:20 p.m. as the Texans take on the Panthers.Click here for tickets.
Check out the best photos from the Houston Texans practice on Wednesday leading into Week 2.