The Texans (1-9-1) host the Browns (4-7) in Week 13 at NRG Stadium. The two franchises have met 12 times, and Houston's been victorious in seven of those contests. Here are five things to watch when they kick off at noon CT on Sunday.
1) Allen improvement – Quarterback Kyle Allen and the offense are looking to play much better this Sunday after the veteran made his Texans debut last week in Miami. He tossed a pair of interceptions and was disappointed in his performance. Allen's gunning for a much better outcome against the Browns.
"It's just execution and staying within the plan," Allen said. "Limit the big mistakes. We said it after the game, but the interception early really put us out of range. Can't put the team in that position. A lot of things to learn from, but on to the next."
According to Offensive Coordinator Pep Hamilton, a second week of starter's reps in practice should be helpful.
"He's been able to get more reps with the guys he will play with on Sunday, so we're hoping that means we're going to get the ball out one hitch sooner," Hamilton said.
2) Run it back – In tandem with Allen's struggles last week was an inability to run the ball effectively. Rookie Dameon Pierce was held to eight yards on five carries, a week after gaining eight yards on 10 carries. As a team, the Texans picked up 36 yards on 14 rush attempts versus Miami.
Pierce gained 670 of his 788 yards this season in a 7-game stretch between Week 3 and Week 10. Head Coach Lovie Smith said much of that success hinged upon the offensive line.
"Part of why Dameon had success early on is because of what we were doing up front," Smith said. "So, we have to talk about what we're doing up front right now. Also early on in some of those plays, a lot of the yards he's gotten have been yards after contact."
Hamilton explained how the Texans offense must present the threat of balance. Not being able to load up against the run, and being wary of the pass, is something Houston must force upon opposing defenses.
"Teams that we've faced in the previous three or four weeks, they've covered up all of our offensive linemen and tried to create one-on-one blocks up front," Hamilton said. "When that happens, we have to do a really good job just featuring some of the guys that are closer to the line of scrimmage that can run routes downfield."
Despite the struggles of the past two weeks, the Browns are very impressed with Pierce and his abilities. Cleveland linebacker Sione Takitaki heaped praise upon the rookie.
"He can dust you and he can run you over," Takitaki said. "We definitely have to be prepared for him. He brings a lot to the table. We're well aware of him."
3) Speaking of the run… - Getting going on the ground again is important for the Texans, and the defense must also not gashed by Nick Chubb and the Cleveland rushing attack. A Pro-Bowler each of the last three seasons, Chubb is averaging 5.2 yards per carry. He's never averaged less than 5 yards per carry in a season, and has already rumbled for 12 touchdowns.
"He's a dynamic running back, everybody in the league knows it," Linebackers Coach Miles Smith said. "We need to have 11 guys on the ball every play. If it's just a one-on-one battle every time, occasionally a guy is going to miss a tackle, but if we have two, three, four guys on each tackle, he's not going to be able to break all of those. Going into this week, we need to be gang tackling, doing our job, and we're going to be okay."
As an offense, the Browns are fifth in the NFL with 4.9 yards per carry.
4) Watson's return – Former Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson returns from an 11-game suspension and will play his first regular season game since Week 17 of the 2020 campaign. Houston's well aware of the 3-time Pro Bowler's talents, and don't expect to see much rust from Watson.
"We can't go into this game thinking he'll be rusty," Texans Linebacker Christian Kirksey said. "We've got expect him to play a good game."
"We're telling our guys we're going to see the best version of Deshaun," Smith said. "I think you go into every game that way. We have no idea. He hasn't played for a long period of time, but we hope there is some rust and all those things."
5) Turn the tide – The Texans have lost every game they've played since the bye week in mid-October. In those six defeats, they've also lost the turnover/takeaway battle in five of those contests. The last three games have seen them go minus-2 each time.
At the bye week, Houston was tied for fourth in the NFL at plus-3 on the season. Since then, though, the Texans have plummeted to minus-4 on the year and are tied with the Panthers for 26th in the league.
Cleveland, on the other hand, is worse. The Browns are minus-6 on the year.
The lone victory of the 2022 campaign for the Texans is also the only contest in which they've been plus-2 or better. They've lost or tied every other game, which saw them at plus-1, even, or in the negative territory of turnover differential.
Tap to browse tickets for the Houston Texans next home game vs. the Cleveland Browns HERE.