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Houston Texans vs. Cleveland Browns: Week 11 Game Preview & Prediction

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We break down every position for the Houston Texans vs. Cleveland Browns game, as well as our prediction of which team will emerge victorious.

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David Butler II-US PRESSWIRE

This week, the Cleveland Browns take on the Houston Texans. Although there probably won't be snow for the game, temperatures are expected to be in the 30s and Houston has a quarterback who will be making his first career start. Advantage: Cleveland. Our position-by-position evaluation and game prediction are below.


Position-by-Position Evaluation

Pos Advantage Reason
QB -

Browns: Critics of Brian Hoyer like to point out that he's not a very accurate quarterback. One might believe that if they looked at his 58.5% completion percentage on the season. Keep this in mind too, though: from Weeks 5-7, Hoyer completed 47.37% of his passes. From Weeks 8-10, he's completed 64.7% of his passes. Whether he was facing Ryan Mallett or Ryan Fitzpatrick, Hoyer would still get the edge because he's proven to operate so effectively in Kyle Shanahan's offense. For those who think he'll "fall off," look at the calendar -- it's Week 11. The sample size in favor of Hoyer is only growing by the week.

Texans: I'd be a hypocrite if I wrote-off Ryan Mallett simply because he's making his first career start. Mallett has some of the non-playing attributes that I find compelling about a quarterback -- learning behind a solid veteran like Tom Brady, and having several years of being a "student" before taking the reigns. Mallett is a big quarterback at 6-6, 238 pounds who boasts a strong arm and likes to stay in the pocket. Our affiliate, Battle Red Blog, did a tremendous breakout on the type of throws that are awe-inspiring from Mallett. On the downside, if he gets pressure up the middle, he loses a touch of accuracy.

RB -

Browns: The Browns' running back distribution has been all over the map this season. For the first time with an active Ben Tate on the roster, Terrance West made the surprise start against Cincinnati and responded with 26 carries for 94 yards. This week, you'd think that Tate would have some extra motivation to face his former team, but the coaching staff won't care much about that. Will Isaiah Crowell be punished again for his near-fumble a week ago? These are all questions Cleveland faces at the position on a weekly basis.

Texans: Arian Foster has been ruled out with a groin injury. Besides one off game against Buffalo, he had been lights out, averaging 5.1 yards per carry on the season. He had six 100+ yard rushing performances in 8 games played, and he's also a dynamic threat out of the backfield.

Cleveland has had the luxury of facing backup-type backs like Dernard Robinson, Darren McFadden, Bobby Rainey, and Jeremy Hill in their past four games. Foster would've been a whole other animal, but Cleveland catches a break again as rookie Alfred Blue gets the start. Blue has 68 carries for 234 yards this season, an average of just 3.4 YPC. He hasn't handled a big workload yet, and having him and Mallett together could lead to some miscommunications. Jonathan Grimes will be Blue's backup.

WR
TE
-

Browns: I had to do this before Josh Gordon came back, and I think it's the right thing to do: even without Jordan Cameron again, the Browns' wide receivers have 100% earned a respectable ranking. The receivers have been running good routes, continue to avoid the dropped passes, get yards after the catch, and even block well. The one element that's missing is a guy who can win a battle with a defensive back for a deep ball, but that's coming...soon.

Texans: Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins get a lot of credit as quality players, but can you name any of their receivers after that? Owen Daniels went to the Ravens this offseason, leaving Garrett Graham as the team's starting tight end. He had a good year in 2013, but has not been utilized much as a receiver in 2014, catching just 12 passes for 122 yards on the season. After Hopkins and Johnson, Houston's next leading wide receiver is Damaris Johnson, who has just 13 catches for 197 yards on the year.

OL -

Browns: The Browns will be in trouble this week if center Nick McDonald can't play due to a calf injury. He told reporters earlier this week that he's feeling better, so there is some optimism that the chemistry the offensive line has slowly started to re-build since Alex Mack's departure can be maintained. If Mack can't play, do you even want to think about the danger of J.J. Watt lining up over his replacement? Cleveland gets the even ranking for their pass blocking.

Texans: The Texans are very stable at left tackle (Duane Brown) and center (Chris Myers). In the running game, Brandon Brooks has been getting the job done at right guard, and Derek Newton has done an adequate job at right tackle. The biggest weakness, according to our Texans affiliate, is at left guard, where both Ben Jones and second round pick Xavier Su'a-Filo have struggled. Jones is expected to start. Houston's edge over Cleveland comes in their zone run blocking.

DL -

Browns: The Browns will be without Phil Taylor for the rest of the season, so Billy Winn and Ahtyba Rubin will have to step up their games. Desmond Bryant had back-to-back sacks against Cincinnati, and Cleveland could use a guy who can get pressure up the middle in the face of Ryan Mallett this week.

Texans: J.J. Watt.

I thought about just leaving it at that, but I'll expand a little. Houston gets the advantage because of Watt alone. He has a greater individual impact on a game for a defender than I can ever remember. Houston's other defensive end is Jared Crick, and then Ryan Pickett and Jerrell Powe share time at the nose tackle position.

LB -

Browns: Cleveland gets the edge at linebacker this week because all of their players are healthy, thus creating a more stable unit. For the second week in a row, I'm going to point out what inside linebacker Craig Robertson has done in pass coverage. Pro Football Focus pointed out the incredible turnaround in production he's had as a coverage player.

Jabaal Sheard and Paul Kruger are going to be particularly important this week in finding a balance between getting a pass rush in the face of Ryan Mallett while not over-pursuing from the edge and allowing Alfred Blue to run right by them.

Texans: Here is what the first overall pick of the draft, Jadeveon Clowney, has done in 2014: 2 tackles in 2 games. It's obviously been frustrating for the Texans not to have him on the field due to injuries and an illness, and it's been frustrating as a fan too. He is expected to make another "return" this week, but will still have limited snaps, likely as a pass rusher on third downs. If Cleveland can get him lined up in coverage, it's not a bad idea to test him.

The Texans' other outside linebackers include Brooks Reed and Whitney Mercilus on the outside. Brian Cushing is the team's best inside linebacker, but he's missed the team's past two games with a knee injury. He's expected to play; at the other inside linebacker position, the Texans have a variety of options who they will rotate in and out.

DB -

Browns: Cleveland received great news on the injury front Friday when free safety Tashaun Gipson suited up for practice. He's been the ultimate playmaker, and with Ryan Mallett projected to take some deep shots on Sunday, Gipson's presence will be huge in trying to prevent the big play. Joe Haden has been playing at the level of a top-tier cornerback again, Donte Whitner is making big plays, and Buster Skrine isn't losing confidence despite being burned a few times.

Texans: The Texans will be without starting cornerback Kareem Jackson this week, which is a problem for Houston considering he's probably been their best cornerback. The Texans could go with either A.J. Bouye, Andre Hal, or Darryl Morris in his place. Let's hope they choose Hal, who PFF graded with a -5.1 against the Eagles a few weeks ago. Johnathan Joseph will start at the other cornerback position as he returns from a concussion. The safety play with D.J. Swearinger and Kendrick Lewis has not been the most desirable.

ST -

Browns: For as useless as the Browns' return units have been, there is some hope. Last week, we saw Marlon Moore get a big kickoff return (negated by a flag). Special teams coordinator Chris Tabor pointed out this week that return opportunities will be more plentiful due to the colder weather. That means more opportunities for Moore, and if other teams return it against the Browns, Cleveland's coverage units are among the best in the NFL.

Texans: Randy Bullock is 15-of-18 on the season with a long of 55 yards. Only 46.8% of his kickoffs are taken for touchbacks, compared to 70.2% for Billy Cundiff. Shane Lechler has a big leg still, with the second best punting average in the NFL (47.7 yards). However, his net average is 37.8, which ranks 28th in the NFL -- a sign of poor coverage units that make it compelling to stick Travis Benjamin back for a return this week. Daniel Manning returns kickoffs while Keshawn Martin returns punts.



Prediction

The Texans do not have a very good defense outside of J.J. Watt. While there is always that striking fear that Watt will single-handedly disrupt several key plays that kill drives, I have to believe that offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and Brian Hoyer will run the gameplan around Watt.

Defensively, Cleveland has played as well as any team in the NFL over the last month, so they will be up to the task of defending Ryan Mallett without Arian Foster in the lineup. Houston will put up a fight, but Cleveland's confidence on both sides of the ball will allow them to continue minimizing the mistakes and forcing turnovers.

Cleveland Browns 27, Houston Texans 17


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