- Deshaun Watson has been impressive as a rookie quarterback. After two lackluster weeks against the Jaguars and Bengals, he's responded with three straight respectable games against the Patriots, Titans, and Chiefs. In the last two weeks alone, he’s thrown for 9 touchdown passes to just 1 interception.
- The area Cleveland could be most vulnerable against Watson is when he takes off. It’s a reason he’s avoided some sacks behind a poor Texans offensive line. He’s run for two touchdowns on the season, including a 49-yarder. Jacoby Brissett scored twice in the red zone with the Colts against Cleveland.
- Cleveland made the decision to bench DeShone Kizer this week in favor of Kevin Hogan, and it’s something I wholeheartedly agreed with. Kizer seemed like an OK choice based on his preseason potential and the assumption that he’d improve with time. He hasn’t.
- Kizer’s barely been able to complete 50% of his passes and has had too many drives killed by avoidable turnovers. One could blame Cleveland’s receivers for his lack of success, but Hogan has completed 68% of his passes and produced more scoring drives in substitution duty than Kizer has as a starter.
- Lamar Miller is the Texans' starting running back. On the ground, he has 83 carries for 331 yards (4.0 YPC) and 1 touchdown. He's also the team's second-leading receiver with 12 catches for 135 yards and 1 touchdown. Spelling Miller is D'Onta Foreman, who has 38 carrues for 148 yards (3.9 YPC) on the year. He’s a third-round pick out of Texas.
- For a couple of years now, I've seen the lulls and then lights out stretches that Isaiah Crowell breaks in to, and with some of the things I've been seeing, he's really close to a breakout performance. It may not seem like much, but he's up to 3.1 YPC on the season and before long, he'll be back above 4.0 YPC.
- Where the Browns get the edge this week (and many weeks) is with Duke Johnson. He's the team's leading receiver in receptions and yards with 23 catches for 270 yards. He has three all-purpose touchdowns on the year with a missed tackle rate that is off the chart.
Wide Receiver / Tight End
- The Texans’ starting receivers are De’Andre Hopkins and Will Fuller. Hopkins has had a great start to the season, with 35 catches for 363 yards and 5 touchdowns, including 3 last week. I don’t care who Cleveland sticks on Hopkins: he’s a guy you can’t just “shut down.” Jamar Taylor may receive the unfortunate assignment.
- Fuller, the team’s first-round pick in 2016, came back in Week 4 and has had an impressive two-game stretch: 6 catches for 92 yards and 4 touchdowns. After him, Bruce Ellington is the third option -- he has 9 catches for 133 yards and 1 touchdown on the year.
- Houston doesn’t feature a top threat as a receiving tight end. Ryan Griffin will start in that role, but he has just 9 catches for 96 yards and 1 touchdown on the year. Although given the Browns’ struggles at covering tight ends, he’s a candidate for a big day I suppose.
- The Browns might have Kenny Britt back this week, although Hue Jackson talked about wanting to make sure that when Britt comes back, he’s at full strength. The “reset” of missing time can help his confidence reboot. Personally, I think Cleveland had a good thing going last week with Bryce Treggs, Kasen Williams, and Ricardo Louis in the mix. It doesn’t touch what the Texans have at receiver, but it’s a start.
- Hogan has had a lot of downfield success with David Njoku and Seth DeValve. Those could be two of his biggest targets.
- The Texans’ starting offensive line includes LT Chris Clark, LG Xavier Su'a-Filo, C Nick Martin, RG Jeff Allen, and RT Breno Giacomini. The Browns are coming off games against the Bengals and Texans, and they featured two of the worst offensive lines in the NFL. Houston’s group is right there with them, particularly in pass protection. There really isn’t a strong point, but PFF singles out Giacomini in a bad way:
Giacomini currently ranks last among tackles with a pass-blocking efficiency of 87.2, surrendering a league-high 31 total pressures, including four sacks, on 189 pass-blocking snaps.
- The Browns’ offensive line is dealing with some injuries. The team seemed optimistic that both C J.C. Tretter (knee) and RT Shon Coleman (knee) will still start. If either can’t go, then the substitutes would be Austin Reiter at center and Spencer Drango at right tackle.
- The Texans run a 3-4 defense, but they are in a tough spot up front after the season-ending injury to DE J.J. Watt. NT D.J. Reader is a sure bet to start, and DE Christian Covington will also receive reps.
- After that, Houston will have to decide whether fourth-round pick Carlos Watkins is ready to contribute. He has 1 tackle on the season. Houston also signed veteran Kendall Langford off the street. He has 9 years of starting expeirnece with the Dolphins, Rams, and Colts, but this will be his first game of 2017.
- The Browns’ run defense is allowing less than 3 yards per carry, aided by the depth of Danny Shelton, Larry Ogunjobi, Jamie Meder, and Trevon Coley up front. Myles Garrett’s workload could increase this week to around 25 snaps. Although still hobbled last week, he managed two sacks and could have some opportunities this week if Deshaun Watson bails from the pocket.
- The Texans' starting linebackers are OLB Jadeveon Clowney, MLB Benardrick McKinney, MLB Zach Cunningham, and a player to be determined after the season-ending injury to OLB Whitney Mercilus. Brennan Scarlett, an undrafted free agent last year, filled in for Merciulus to close out the game.
- McKinney, a second-round pick in 2015, made second-team All-Pro last year and leads the team in tackles. Clowney will be counted on to step up, but his impact comes as more of a run defender — although he does have three sacks on the year. Cunningham, a second-round pick, is third on the team in tackles. He’ll split some reps with rookie undrafted free agent Dylan Cole.
- Cleveland will have their full complement of starting linebackers available this week, as Jamie Collins is back from his concussion. Unfortunately, the team’s depth still takes a bit of a hit as James Burgess is doubtful with a knee injury. Cleveland’s starting trio should have the advantage or be even with Houston on paper, but it hasn’t panned out that way. It’s stunning how unproductive the group has been in coverage.
- The Texans’ starting cornerbacks include CB Johnathan Joseph and CB Kareem Jackson. It seems like just yesterday that Joseph was with the Bengals, and I couldn’t believe that he’s in his seventh season with the Texans.
- Jackson has been with Houston for eight years, but was out of the starting rotation to begin the year to be the team’s third cornerback. Kevin Johnson, their first-round pick from 2015, has missed the past three games, putting Jackson back in the starting lineup.
- Marcus Williams just faced the Browns last week as a member of the Jets as their nickelback. The Jets waived him and the Texans picked him up. It’s possible Cleveland could face him again this week as their nickelback.
- Houston's safeties include Andre Hal and Marcus Gilchrist. Gilchrist has had some coverage issues in the past, but the duo has been pretty stable this year. That could change with Houston’s pass rush taking a big hit, though.
- Jason McCourty has continued to be one of the league’s best cornerbacks, but now he faces one of two red-hot receivers. This will be an important week for Jabrill Peppers to prevent those Texans receivers from striking deep or getting past him on yards after the catch. At the other safety position, Cleveland has significantly reduced Derrick Kindred’s reps the past few weeks. Houston gets the edge here because Cleveland’s safety position hasn’t gotten any stabler.
- Ka'imi Fairbairn is the Texans' kicker. An undrafted free agent, he’s 9-of-9 on field goals and 13-of-14 on extra points. Zane Gonzalez’ stock has taken a big hit after missing his past three field goals, all at home with no troubling weather conditions. The team is sticking with him, and all we can do is hold our breath and hope he pulls it together. He is a big reason the team lost in Week 5.
- Shane Lechler is the Texans' punter. Lechler is fourth in the NFL in punt average (50.3), just behind Britton Colquitt (50.1). Lechler’s net average is 40.3, a stark ten-yard difference, which could signal for some return opportunities for S Jabrill Peppers this week.
- WR Chris Thompson handles kickoffs for the Texans. WR Will Fuller returns punts when Houston needs a big return. Last week, he had one opportunity and returned it 49 yards.
Here are predictions from multiple staff members at DBN.
Chris Pokorny: “I’m excited heading into this one. Kevin Hogan provides a reason for optimism, and I’m interested in seeing how a defense defends him without the tape. Houston is without two of their better pass rushers, and with Hogan already making quick decisions, I expect him to move the ball and have a few runs when the pass rush doesn’t get to him.
Defensively, Cleveland gets Jamie Collins back and will see an increase in reps for Myles Garrett. But they’re also facing a Texans team that has exploded for 33, 57, and 34 points over the past three games. Houston has lost two of those contests, a sign that they are vulnerable to shootouts. But Cleveland’s average output has been 15.4 points. Even if Hogan provides a boost, it’s hard to imagine a complete team effort holding off Houston on the road.” Texans 31, Browns 21.
Andrea Hangst: “It's hard to imagine Deshaun Watson having a bad day against a Browns defense that has made so many other quarterbacks look good this year, despite his rookie status. Kevin Hogan does catch a break with an injury-weakened Texans defense. However, he simply doesn't have enough to work with to get the Browns reliably into the end zone with enough frequency to contend with Houston's offense, which has scored no fewer than 33 points over the last three games.” Texans 30, Browns 13.
Matt Wood: “Hogan plays well at the start and the Browns get a good feeling going. But then the Texans pop a big one to Hopkins and turnovers hurt the Browns again as they stay winless and lose.” Texans 31, Browns 15.
Josh Finney: “I predict that this will be the first game of the season I watch sparingly from a phone, and ignore after halftime. Watson gets at least 50 on the ground, breaking the Browns backs on 3rd down. Even the feckless Texans defenses forces two turnovers.” Texans 27, Browns 12.
Mike Hoag: “Anyone still reading this? Start Deshaun Watson in fantasy football.” Texans 73, Browns 21.
Ezweav: “We are going to get the hell knocked out of us. Once again on paper we should do well against them on both sides of the trenches but whatever critical warts Hogan has that we haven't quite seen yet will start getting exposed. This one won't be close.” Texans 33, Browns 12.
Robo Dawg: “Cleveland is invigorated by the Hogan start, and the WRs start to look like they belong in a professional football league. Houston's defense is weakened just enough by the loss of JJ Watt and Whitney Mercilus to allow our offense to be effective. Gregg Williams is able to confuse Watson and generally contain him. Garrett gets 3 sacks and Bill O'Brien looks disgruntled while thinking about subbing in Savage. Despite two Hogan INTs, Browns win.” Browns 25, Texans 17.
Dan Lalich: “Two inexperienced quarterbacks, two good defenses. This will be a messy game where both offenses move in fits and starts and struggle to make anything happen. Nobody scores a touchdown, it's all field goals and safeties.” Browns 11, Texans 5.
Who do you think will win, Browns fans? Let us know in the comments section below.
Who do you think will win, Browns or Texans? Pick the one closest to your prediction.
This poll is closed
Browns by 7+
Browns by 3
Texans by 3
Texans by 7+