We watched the Cleveland Browns play very efficient football this past Sunday...wait a minute...why are the Browns wearing navy, white, and red? Ah, I see -- so that's what it's like to get beaten at your own game.
The Houston Texans upset the Browns by a score of 23-7, as QB Ryan Mallett and RB Alfred Blue didn't face any significant issues against Cleveland's defense. The Texans were able to operate an offensive gameplan very similar to what the Browns like to operate, and they did so effectively. Cleveland's offense had a lot of opportunities -- more so than their lowly seven points would indicate -- but failed to execute in the big moments too many times and allowed DE J.J. Watt to have too many impactful plays. Let's get to my complete game review to see how things went down.
WEEK 11 - HOUSTON TEXANS VS. CLEVELAND BROWNS
(COMPLETE GAME REVIEW)
- Goat of the Game: RB Isaiah Crowell - Although I like the way he ran the ball and am in favor of him getting continued reps (especially with RB Ben Tate getting the axe now), Crowell was the goat against Houston because of the fumble he had near the end of the second quarter. Cleveland had all of the momentum at the time, and you had the feeling that Cleveland could have gone into the half with a 14-7 lead. Instead, they were down 14-7 and Houston never looked back.
- Awarding the Game Ball: P Spencer Lanning - It's always sad when your punter gets the game ball and he really didn't really have a fantastic day or anything like that. He did draw roughing the kicker penalties twice in the same quarter from DE J.J. Watt, and it sounds like the second one was instigated by Lanning after something he said to Watt following the first incident. Then, in the second half, Lanning saw a snap fly over his head but was able to pick it up, run to the sideline, and somehow still get a punt off to avoid a total disaster.
- Mallett Misses Deep: The Texans didn't wait long to take a deep shot with QB Ryan Mallett.
Facing a 2nd-and-4, WR Andre Johnson is lined up wide left with CB Joe Haden about ten yards off of him. Johnson is going to fake the out route and then steak up field.
With this being Mallet's first pass attempt as a starter, Haden looks like he wants to jump the route. Mallett holds on to the ball though and fires it deep for Johnson.
This would have been a big play of about 40 yards if Mallett throws an accurate ball, and a really good throw could have been a touchdown. However, it is underthrown and a little toward the inside part of the field. Johnson makes a diving catch for 28 yards, but replays show the ball touched the ground and Mike Pettine's challenge pays off as the Texans punt after not converting on third down.
- Watt Impacts Run Game Early: I know fans were sick of CBS showing DE J.J. Watt every possible second that they good, but he earned it with the individual impact he had again for the Texans' defense, not only as a pass rusher, but as a run defender as well.
This is a 1st-and-10 play from the 42 yard line. The Browns pitch it out to RB Isaiah Crowell, and this is an instance in which the play is not set up for him to reverse directions. Watt (No. 99) is able to drive RT Mitchell Schwartz backward.
Watt dives and takes out Crowell's legs for a loss of one yard. Thus began the afternoon of too many plays that began with 2nd-and-long despite having pretty good field position.
- No Safety Help Allows Mallett to Go Deep: On the Texans' second offensive series, things looked good again for the Browns as the Texans were facing a 3rd-and-9 backed up in their own territory.
WR DeAndre Hopkins is lined up at the bottom of the screen and he's going to streak down the middle of the field. CB Buster Skrine is playing to stop the outside routes, so it's my belief that S Jim Leonhard (green circle) is supposed to help take the inside stuff away, even though he's playing shallow to begin with.
Mallett lets loose at this point and Leonhard is trailing.
Skrine does the best he can to try to break up the pass, but you can see that Hopkins has now gained at least five yards of separation on Leonhard and makes the catch for a gain of 41 yards. If the Browns had a deeper safety set up for this play, maybe this is an incomplete pass or an interception instead.
I heard some complaints that the Browns didn't bring enough pressure on QB Ryan Mallett, but it wasn't for a lack of trying. Here is how the Browns lined up pre-snap on Mallett's deep ball; they are going to try to bring an overload blitz from the left side.
The Texans pick it up and Mallett is able to step in to his throw down the middle. Cleveland needed to disrupt Mallett early, either with a pass rush or good coverage, and instead they let him build confidence.
- Making it Easy for Mallett: I'm not going to say that QB Ryan Mallett had a perfect day, but he was impressive. He delivered on the scouting report that he came with, but the unfortunate part is that Cleveland just could not get pressure on him.
Here is a 3rd-and-8 from the 35 yard line. With a stop, Cleveland can hold the Texans to a long field goal attempt. WR Andre Johnson is at the top of the screen running a deep out route. S Jim Leonhard is going to dart forward to try to undercut any throws in the area.
Mallett is able to step up with zero pressure -- again, this makes it easy for Mallett and tough on our secondary. The coverage is not bad from CB Joe Haden, but Mallett is able to use his rocket arm to zing an accurate line drive to Johnson for a first down.
- Texans Hit Run Blocks Efficiently: Two plays later, facing a 2nd-and-9, the Texans ripped off their first solid run of the game with RB Alfred Blue.
I wish you could watch this play unfold live because my diagram doesn't illustrate how quickly and effectively, like clockwork, every member of the Texans hits their blocks to create a big hole for Blue.
Blue runs for 14 yards down to the 4 yard line, and a facemask penalty on S Tashaun Gipson pushes the ball forward to the 2 yard line.
- Tough to Defend Watt's TD: The Texans didn't hold anything back for QB Ryan Mallett.
When the Texans brought DE J.J. Watt into the game as a tight end, he was lined up tight at first. Then, they split him out wide, and I can only imagine what rookie ILB Chris Kirksey was thinking having to shift over to guard him one-on-one.
Mallett and Watt must have worked on this play over and over again in practice because everything from the timing, the throw, the body positioning, the catch, and getting a knee down in bounds was picture perfect and virtually unstoppable. Kirksey made a fine attempt -- his arm is even in the right area to try to disrupt the play -- but Watt maintains his focus for the 2-yard touchdown catch, giving the Texans a 7-0 lead.
- Browns Bust Big Run With Crowell: After the Texans' touchdown, Cleveland's first offensive play was a run by RB Isaiah Crowell that went for 35 yards, the most productive run by either team on the day.
The flavor of the day for the Browns' playbook was to pitch it to Crowell, have the tight end block across the formation, and have Crowell cut back that direction. On this play, TE Gary Barnidge is going to be responsible for blocking DE J.J. Watt.
Barnidge delivers a nice cut block to Watt, which helps Crowell avoid contact in the backfield.
And then he's off for the races! Crowell's 35-yard scamper set the Browns up in Houston territory, 45 yards away from the end zone.
- Agnew's Return Not Good Enough: After the big run, QB Brian Hoyer threw for two first downs, setting Cleveland up with a 1st-and-10 at the 17 yard line.
RB Terrance West entered the game and QB Brian Hoyer handed off to him. From the screenshot above, West appears to have a great hole -- one that he could get close to a first down on. The little cyan arrow represents FB Ray Agnew. Pay attention to Agnew, because now you see him...
...and now you don't. Where the hell did he go? His block didn't go so well, and he's buried on the ground to the left of the Texans' No. 50. Now, instead of West having a great hole, the defender is able to grab West by the shoulder, causing him to spin around and then be tackled by another defender for a gain of only three yards.
- Texans Ready for Rollout to Hawkins: Facing a 2nd-and-7 from the 14 yard line, QB Brian Hoyer took the snap and immediately rolled to the left by design for a pass play.
This play is almost always designed to go to the slot receiver (in this case, WR Andrew Hawkins), and that is who Hoyer immediately throws it to. The problem is that CB Johnathan Joseph lined up over TE Jim Dray at the top of the screen, gives him no respect, and just plays Hawkins, tackling him for no gain.
Hoyer wasn't pressured here, and if he had had the option, he could've pumped it to Hawkins once and then hit Dray in the end zone. Also, I would've liked to have seen Dray take his initial route more up the sideline, or at least look more convincing, because Joseph never bought whatever he was doing. Maybe that is where having a guy like TE Jordan Cameron back will help.
- Watt Gets to Hoyer, Again a Difference Maker: On the next play, the Browns now faced a 3rd-and-7.
The Browns lined WR Andrew Hawkins up in the backfield, split to the right of QB Brian Hoyer. The objective there is probably to have a linebacker in coverage on him.
Hoyer drops back to pass and the Texans only bring a three-man rush. DE J.J. Watt is coming around the edge, and OG John Greco is ready to help OT Mitchell Schwartz if Watt spins back inside.
Hoyer doesn't feel the pocket well enough and gets stripped by Watt. Hoyer recovers, but it ends up being a loss of eight yards. Remember that Cleveland was lined up on the right hashmark for this play -- the fumble puts them on the left hashmark, and then K Billy Cundiff pushed his field goal wide right.
Before Hoyer got sacked, he was looking all the way for Hawkins. If Hoyer had hit Hawkins with an accurate, in stride throw half way between where he's at above and the sideline, then he probably could have out-ran the linebacker for a first down, maybe even a touchdown. Instead, Cleveland gets nothing.
- Haden Tilts the Momentum With INT: The Texans didn't waste any time putting together another good offensive drive to close out the first quarter.
Facing a 3rd-and-2 and having already run the ball a couple of times on 3rd-and-longer-than-2 situations, the Browns loaded the box. It's actually going to be a playaction pass, though. WR DeAndre Hopkins is lined up against CB Joe Haden. A tight end if going to run the wheel up the sideline.
Both safeties bit hard for the run. SS Donte Whitner is easily beat by the tight end at the bottom of the screen, but QB Ryan Mallett is looking for Hopkins across the field all the way.
Mallett is well-protected. If he looked for his tight end, it's an easier throw and probably a touchdown. Hopkins is open enough for a touchdown too, but it's a longer and more difficult throw to make.
Haden had great recovery speed and makes a hell of a play on the football, not only leaping sky high to deflect it, but then coming away with an interception to prevent the Texans from going up 14-0.
- Browns See Holes Collapse in Ground Game: Whereas the Texans finished blocks and were consistent in that area, the Browns were often in position to block a play well, only to fall apart.
On the first play of the second quarter, the Browns faced a 1st-and-10 from the Texans' 49 yard line. In the screenshot above, FB Ray Agnew and C Nick McDonald look to be in position to hit their blocks, which could spring a nice little run from West.
Instead, neither Agnew nor McDonald get off good blocks, so West is stopped for a gain of only two yards.
- Bad Deep Read by Hoyer: On the next play, the Browns faced a 2nd-and-8.
QB Brian Hoyer runs a playaction fake and the Texans are playing a Cover-3. WR Taylor Gabriel is running a deep post route from the right, and WR Miles Austin runs a late in and out at the top of the screen.
Hoyer is looking deep here, and he knows he only has two receivers on the route. He has to know that there are at least two defenders deep on Gabriel. His read should be to look for Austin on the shorter route, who is coming wide open when he runs the out.
Hoyer chucks it deep, and it's no where close to Gabriel and almost intercepted. As you can see above, Austin would've had a big gain on this play. I was a big supporter of Hoyer earlier this season because I felt that even when he struggled, he made the right decisions. More and more bad decisions are starting to creep their way in to things, and I think that's because he's trying to do too much.
- Crowell Misses Blitz Pickup: After a roughing the punter penalty on DE J.J. Watt, the Browns got a fresh set of downs near field goal range. It didn't do any good when QB Brian Hoyer had to take a sack on 2nd-and-8 from the 30 yard line.
Hoyer takes a three-step drop and looks toward WR Taylor Gabriel at the bottom of the screen. Hoyer does a little pump fake, but the outside cornerback is playing back the whole time for the double move. Meanwhile, the Texans are bringing six defenders.
The Browns have six blockers, but RB Isaiah Crowell is helping with a double team rather than helping chip the free man. Thus, Hoyer gets decked for a loss of 7 yards on a play in which DE J.J. Watt wasn't even on the field. Facing about a 54-yard field goal two plays later, the Browns opt to punt instead of kicking a field goal.
- Building a Rhythm: The Browns' defense forced a three-and-out, but on their next drive, the offense had two penalties set them back. On 4th-and-28, DE J.J. Watt was flagged for roughing P Spencer Lanning again, and that's when Cleveland's offense started to look its best.
After a 23-yard pass play to WR Taylor Gabriel, the Browns had back-to-back runs with RB Isaiah Crowell, which together netted 10 yards and a first down. The blocks are set up nicely on this play. FB Ray Agnew helps out TE Jim Dray. While I don't think it was a bad decision, it's a play where if Agnew goes to the next level instead, Crowell might be sprung for a touchdown.
- Texans' Safeties Bite on TD to Hawkins: Facing a 1st-and-10 from the 32 yard line, the Browns got their only score of the game.
Off of a playaction fake, WR Miles Austin is streaking up the field while WR Andrew Hawkins is running a crossing route. Both outside cornerbacks are in zone coverage, while both safeties bite up on the playaction.
With the safeties leaving a void in coverage, QB Brian Hoyer hits WR Andrew Hawkins in stride. The catch-and-run of 32 yards goes for a touchdown, tying the game at 7-7 with nine minutes to play in the second quarter.
- Crowell's Fumble Changes the Game: After the Texans got to midfield on their next drive, they had a 3rd-and-1 snap sail way over the head of QB Ryan Mallett, and RB Alfred Blue fell on top of it for a loss of 20 yards. Cleveland's next drive started goofy -- QB Brian Hoyer tripped, fell, got up, and found TE Jim Dray on an improvised play wide open for a gain of 30 yards.
Cleveland had the running game going now. Above, FB Ray Agnew delivers a nice cut block, which allows RB Terrance West to use his speed to get to the outside for a gain of 7 yards.
Two plays later, the Browns had a 1st-and-10 at the 19 yard line with under four minutes to play in the half. Cleveland had all of the momentum, and it looked like the game could be there's for the taking. RB Isaiah Crowell was back on the field and he received the pitch. Crowell cuts back and has another opening, but RT Mitchell Schwartz can't seal ILB Brian Cushing as well as he'd like. Cushing delivers a chop across Crowell's body, which strips the football loose and allows -- you guessed it -- DE J.J. Watt to fall on top of it. Heart in hand.
- Robertson Late on TD to Graham: The Browns' defense needed to rise up after the fumble, but they did not. Maybe seeing ILB Karlos Dansby go out to injury played a role.
Facing a 1st-and-10 from the 20 yard line with 0:28 and 1 timeout, QB Ryan Mallett finds TE Garrett Graham wide open for a 20-yard touchdown. Everybody on the Browns is playing man coverage, but ILB Craig Robertson in the middle does not immediately run over to guard Graham. That might be why head coach Mike Pettine referred to it as a blown coverage after the game.
Still, Robertson could have had a big play. He runs underneath the path of the oncoming throw late, but he is drifting into the official, unbeknownst to him.
If the official isn't there, Robertson should knock this down at the very least, and there's a good chance he might intercept the pass. Instead, it's a Texans touchdown and then go into the half with a 14-7 lead.
- Hoyer Misses Opportunity, Nearly Picked: Cleveland got the ball first to begin the third quarter but missed several opportunities on offense.
After a pair of runs by RB Isaiah Crowell resulted in a first down, Cleveland faced a 1st-and-10 at the 30 yard line. QB Brian Hoyer dropped back and turned to throw to Crowell in the flat. Nobody covers Crowell, and most of the defenders' backs are turned. This had the potential to net quite a lot of yards.
Give credit to Texans DE Jared Crick here, who comes off of his pass rushing assignment and runs to the path of the ball.
Crick nearly comes away with the interception, which would've been a disaster. Instead, he drops it. I do like that the Browns are throwing to the running backs more often. One could say that a deeper throw was needed by Hoyer here, but if you watch this in real time, I'm of the belief that Crick just made an excellent play.
- Browns Can't Hit the Fleaflicker: The Browns' next play was set up nicely by all of the pitch plays to RB Isaiah Crowell.
Crowell gets the pitch and then glips the ball back to QB Brian Hoyer. WR Travis Benjamin is the target on a deep route to the middle of the field, and with the other two defenders creeping up, they lose sight of Benjamin.
Benjamin is wide open, but LG Joel Bitonio let ILB Brian Cushing get by him a click too soon. Hoyer takes a hit as he tries to use all arm to get this pass away...
...resulting in an incompletion. One thing you can't complain about this week was the playcalling by offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. He called another impressive game, but the execution wasn't up to par.
- Deep Shot Not to the Outside: On the next play, facing a 3rd-and-10, QB Brian Hoyer launched the ball deep up the left sideline to WR Taylor Gabriel.
Gabriel is running up the numbers, leaving him with room to the sideline. The defender is turned toward the inside part of the field. If Hoyer makes this throw, he has to take advantage of the space to the outside.
Instead, the ball is thrown on a straight line and the defender shields Gabriel from it, resulting in an incompletion and a punt.
- Almost an INT for Kruger: Let's fastforward a bit. The Texans missed a 52-yard field goal, the Browns went three-and-out, the Texans made a 43-yard field goal, and the Browns punted again. We're now near the end of the third quarter with the Texans up 17-7.
On 3rd-and-8, QB Ryan Mallett is going to try to hit WR DeAndre Hopkins on the quick slant to the top of the screen.
OLB Paul Kruger started on the line of scrimmage but drops back into coverage as Mallett is delivering the pass. Mallett doesn't appear to see Kruger.
Kruger gets both hands on the ball, but because he was headed in the opposite direction, it's behind him and thus he's only able to break the pass up instead of coming up with a game-changing interception.
- Mallett Uses His Canon on 4th Down: Near the beginning of the fourth quarter, the Texans faced a 4th-and-3 at Cleveland's 38 yard line. They called a timeout and then sent the offense out onto the field. I thought they would use a hard count to try to draw Cleveland offsides, but QB Ryan Mallett called for the snap.
WR Andre Johnson was at the top of the screen with CB Joe Haden locked on him.
The coverage was stout, and Mallett delivers a low, semi-back-shoulder type of throw that Johnson goes to the ground for to make the catch. Haden just missed knocking the pass away and can't believe it. The conversion drained three more minutes of clock and helped the Texans add another field goal, this time from 37 yards, to make it a 20-7 game.
- Kickoff Return TD Negated: On the ensuing kickoff, WR Marlon Moore had a 104-yard kickoff return for a touchdown that was nullified due to a holding penalty.
The penalty is called on TE Ryan Taylor, who is grabbing on to the arm of a would-be tackler.
The official is staring at Taylor's area the whole time, and although it's not a firm grab, the fact that he does it for a span of 10-15 yards will probably draw a flag every time. If Taylor hadn't committed the slight hold, I have to say that Moore probably gets stopped.
If the play had counted, Moore knows how to use his blocks. In the bottom right corner of the screen, you can see the flag being tossed in the air. Boo!!!
- Hoyer Not Making it Easy on Receivers: Cleveland needed to score the hard way: two touchdowns with enough time for two drives. Although QB Brian Hoyer led Cleveland down the field with a couple of nice throws to WR Taylor Gabriel (35 yards) and WR Andrew Hawkins (22 yards), he couldn't finish it off.
This is a 2nd-and-9 from the 23 yard line with 7:29 to play. The first read is to throw the ball to FB Ray Agnew in the flat, which is something I'd question, but hey, your fullback sometimes goes uncovered, so why not I guess.
The deeper defender breaks for Agnew and would probably stop him shy of a first down.
We never get to find out because the throw is high and Agnew can't catch it. The ball needed to be on Agnew's hip pocket to allow him to turn upfield and dive for the first down.
Facing a 3rd-and-8 now, Hoyer looks for WR Taylor Gabriel on the outside.
Gabriel has enough room to work with, but Hoyer's throw is off the mark and out of bounds. On 4th down, WR Miles Austin dropped a first down pass, but it wouldn't have mattered anyway since Cleveland committed a chop block.
- The Final Shot: After the defense forced a three-and-out, Cleveland had one last gasp, needing a quick score and then the onside kick, quick score type of deal.
Facing a 1st-and-10 from the 38 yard line, WR Taylor Gabriel is running a route to the middle of the field from the top of the screen and TE Jim Dray is running a crossing route toward the green circle.
On television, the announcers said that Dray was wide open, and he was. The defenders in the secondary are focused on Gabriel from a distance.
I don't fault Hoyer's decision here. Gabriel was wide open, but Hoyer elevates the ball and it falls incomplete. If this was WR Josh Gordon running the route, he catches it easily. That's another way to make Hoyer's passes look more accurate -- give him a taller target for these situations. Two plays later, WR Miles Austin dropped a pass, which deflected to the Texans for an interception. Houston tackled on a 50-yard field goal to make the final score 23-7.
- Special Teams Tackles: There was 1 special teams tackle, and it came from OLB Barkevious Mingo. There were 4 assists, with 1 each from TE Gary Barnidge, OLB Eric Martin, CB K'Waun Williams, and S Jim Leonhard.
- Snap Counts on Offense & Defense: If you missed them, here are the links to our snap count trackers for offense (link) and defense (link). On offense, TE Ryan Taylor saw a couple of snaps somewhere. On defense, the reps were distributed differently at linebacker due to injuries to OLB Jabaal Sheard and ILB Karlos Dansby.
- Brownies: The Browns were 3-of-15 (20%) on 3rd down. ... The Texans were 7-of-18 on 3rd down (39%). ... WR Travis Benjamin was back as the Browns' punt returner. ... The Texans won the time of possession battle 33:53 to 26:07. ... Houston used a similar no-huddle, zone-blocking attack on offense that Cleveland has run in 2014. ... QB Brian Hoyer was 9-of-18 (50%) in the first half and 11-of-32 (34%) the rest of the game. ... QB Ryan Mallett looked very much in command of the Texans' offense and never looked "lost". ... The Browns had their first red zone turnover in 99 attempts.
Up next, the Browns take on the Atlanta Falcons on the road. Keep it tuned to Dawgs By Nature for our coverage leading up to the game!