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Houston Texans

Week 13 vs. Browns | Harris Hits

Houston Texans Team Analyst John Harris shares his notes from the Texans Week 13 game against the Cleveland Browns.

It was a surreal day, in some sense, at NRG Stadium as the Cleveland Browns came to Houston for the first time since 2018. Oh, and Deshaun Watson wore white, which took some getting used to, I suppose. But, the day went sideways in multiple ways. Weird, odd and surprising, yet the downfall on this day was the same one that's felled the Texans on many days this year. Here are my Harris Hits from the day.

So, how weird was this day? Let's dive in:

-The Texans defense gave up just six points and lost by 13.

-The Texans first play of the game told a foreboding story, seemingly. TE Teagan Quitoriano was wide open on the first play of the game but QB Kyle Allen overthrew him forcing Quitoriano to dive for the pass. As TQ hit the ground, with the ball in his hands, it popped in the air to John Johnson III for an interception. My gosh, the luck is just awful, but TQ was open on an excellent play call and it would've been a great start to the game. It, honestly, was a harbinger of things to come on the day.

-Browns QB Deshaun Watson returned for the first time in 700 days and for just the third time in his entire career didn't account for a TD in any way, shape or form.

-The Texans special teams gave up a touchdown after being one of the top five units in the league in all special teams categories.

-The Texans had a safety in the game, just the 12th in the history of the franchise.

-The Texans scored in every quarter this year for the first time all season.

Yet, the Texans suffered their tenth defeat of the year. Why? Punt return TD. Fumble return TD on a QB sneak. Interception pick six TD. Three NOTs and that was that.

On a day when the Texans defense really strung together a top notch performance, for the most part, the Texans offense laid a massive egg, unfortunately. Dropped passes. Turnovers. Failure to score from the three yard line in the first half. Badly missed throws to open receivers. The run game did get rolling a bit as RB Dameon Pierce piled up 73 yards on 18 carries but there was no real complementary passing game to help Pierce and the run game. Tough day.

But, there were some bright spots and I want to focus on them, on the defensive side of the ball.

Man, DB Jalen Pitre had one heck of a game. It feels like the combination of moving Pitre to free safety and him breaking through the rookie wall all at the same time made all the difference in the world. He was around the football all day long, again, including snatching his third interception of the year. Here's how I described it on Key Play Breakdown.

"The Browns had moved the ball down the field midway through the first quarter and were knocking on the door for their first score of the day. They put 12 personnel on the field - one RB and two tight ends with QB Deshaun Waton under center. They put both TEs to the left side of the formation in a Y wing set and two stacked receivers wide to the right of the formation. They ran play action with trap protection as the Texans were in cover three. The Browns then ran one of my favorite routes - it's called a Mills route. It's a post on the outside and a dig on the inside. The QB's read is quite easy - read the free safety. If he jumps on the dig, hit the post. If he stays deep on the post, hit the dig. Watson's read was Jalen Pitre, the Texans free safety. After the play fake, Watson dropped and immediately had heat in his face in the form of DL Michael Dwumfour, who had split a double team brilliantly and powerfully. Pitre, to his credit, started to chase the dig and then saw that Watson wanted the post. He then planted, redirected and darted in front of the errant throw for his third interception of the year. He then sprinted up the field with the rock all the way out to the Texans 26-yard line. What a great play all around for the Texans defense!"

Then, he went and gave the ball to his safety coach Joe Danna. Just awesome. His tackling is more sure now than ever before (16 stops, nine more than any other Texan defender). He appeared to be so much more confident and sure of himself and as Lovie Smith told me after the game, he's the QB of the defense on the back end now. He seems to relish being in that role too. I've asked for DUDES with ALPHA qualities on this team and we found a GREAT one.

On that Pitre interception, one of the more underrated players on this team DL Michael Dwumfour did a tremendous job getting pressure. On the snap, the Browns decided to double Dwumfour in pass protection, but he literally Hulk'd his way through the double team. I'm using Hulk as a verb because that's the only way to describe how he broke through that double team. He leveraged underneath both guys, didn't allow them to get shoulder to shoulder and ripped through to get right into Deshaun Watson's face, which helped force that interception.

The Texans really suffered in the middle games of the season against the Raiders, the Titans and the Giants. One of the main reasons was the absence of DL Maliek Collins. When Collins is in the lineup, consistently, the run defense is markedly better and the pass rush is much more powerful up the middle. One other aspect that seemed to change the past couple of weeks is the re-emergence of DL Roy Lopez Jr. He seemed to struggle a bit without Collins, but with or without his running mate, Lopez Jr. played one of his best games until he went out of the game with a late injury. Hopefully, he's going to be alright. He finished with five stops and all of them were stuffs, near stuffs or a TFL. The play that truly showed how much better this run defense is with these two playing well together came in the second quarter on the Texans safety. Here's how I described it in Key Play Breakdown

"The Texans couldn't punch it into the end zone on fourth and goal from the one so they turned it back over to the Browns early in the second quarter. The Browns didn't move it off the one on first down, so on 2nd and ten from the one they put in their sixth OL Chris Hubbard and had two tight ends in the game. The Texans answered with their base unit on defense. The Browns tried to run a duo play into the middle of the Texans defensive line. DL Roy Lopez Jr. played the double team brilliantly on his side. LB Christian Kirksey slammed into the backside A gap. Then, DL Maliek Collins beat RT Jack Conklin on the backside and as he did, RB Nick Chubb ran right into Conklin's back one yard deep into the end zone. That slowed Chubb's progress so he bounced to his left. As he did, Lopez was right there to stunt Chubb's run again. Then, the cavalry arrived, led by Christian Harris and Jalen Pitre, slamming into Chubb, keeping him from getting the ball outside of the goal line. SAFETY! Texans took a 5-0 baseball score lead, which was just their way of saying thanks to World Series MVP Jeremy Pena for being on hand today."

One other thing I noticed about that safety was how excited that defense got afterwards. I LOVED seeing the joy after stopping Browns RB Nick Chubb inside the end zone. LB Christian Harris hopped around like Alabama had won the national championship. There's something about a safety, especially THAT way, that gets everyone hyped. Shoot, I was hyped. I was standing in the back of the end zone and I wasn't totally sure that he got out of the end zone. However, I did see Lopez dominate that double team and then Collins shooting through to force Conklin to run into Chubb, or vice versa. It was a great consolation prize after not scoring from the three on four plays just prior.

The defense did take advantage of a rusty Watson. He was unsure at times, but even when he started to get back on track, it seemed, the pass rush ate him up. DL Ogbo Okoronkwo came up with a huge sack on third down to force a Browns punt in the third quarter. He got some help from DL Mario Addison, who also batted down a pass later in the game. Watson wasn't the Watson we knew and the Texans defense had a lot to do with that.

Well, that seems like a great place to stop, take a breath, close a door and move on. The Texans fans expressed their displeasure with Cleveland's new starting QB emphatically for a full 60 minutes but it's over. That chapter is closed and now it's time for the Texans offense to open a new door to the future. There are five games left and the offense has 300 minutes with which to work, execute and produce. It won't get easier at all as the Texans travel to Dallas to take on the blazing hot Cowboys. Strap up and let's GO! See ya from Arlington, everyone!

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Browse photos from the Texans, Browns Week 13 matchup.

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