Today, the Cleveland Browns are back on the road to take on the Houston Texans. To help preview a few topics from the Texans’ perspective, we reached out to Brett Kollman from Battle Red Blog and exchanged five questions with him. Enjoy!
Q: After Will Fuller’s injury, who has been the Texans receiving threat after DeAndre Hopkins?
Brett: It’s been kind of a group effort to replace Fuller’s production to be honest, with Demaryius Thomas having a few key grabs, KeKe Coutee pitching in here and there (when he’s actually on the field), and even the tight ends getting more involved in the red zone. No one single player could ever replace Fuller’s unique role in this offense, but as a team that have done a good job of compensating for his loss. The key will be if DT can catch some lightning in a bottle and return to his previous Pro Bowl form for the last two months of the season — if he does, this offense will be as dangerous as ever.
Q: For the Texans to go 0-3 and then rebound to win 8 straight games is pretty impressive. They’ve also been allowing an average of less than 20 points per game in their last 7 contests. However, I see a lot of weak offensive teams during that stretch. What are your thoughts on the team’s turnaround?
Brett: The pass rush has covered up for a lot of the issues this team had in their pass defense earlier in the year, and Houston’s safety group has had a tremendous year as well. Overall I still think this team has a problem at corner, but as long as Watt and Clowney can keep the pressure up, and as long as Reid and Jackson can keep owning the middle of the field, they are a very dangerous defense. Not elite like Chicago of course, but still very dangerous. The key for them is just forcing quarterbacks to hold the ball and taking away cheap throws over the middle, and restrict them to lower percentage throws on the boundaries. Nothing cheap, nothing deep — that’s the motto.
Q: If there is something the Texans struggle with defensively, what is it?
Brett: Anything that attacks linebackers in coverage. Neither of Houston’s starting inside linebackers - Bernardrick McKinney and Zach Cunningham - are very good in man coverage against quicker running backs or tight ends. Cunningham is probably the better of the two, but not by much. Duke Johnson and David Njoku are probably Cleveland’s best matchups on the field this week. If they can exploit these linebackers in man coverage, they have a shot to really move the ball on this defense.
Q: Who is the strength and weakness of the Texans’ offensive line?
Brett: I don’t necessarily think any one player is a strength because there is not a single Pro Bowl caliber player in that unit, but as a collective they have done a much better job of protecting Watson as of late. I think the biggest reason for that is improvement in communication rather than improvement in talent or technique. Stunts and exotic blitzes absolutely KILLED this line earlier in the year because they simply could not communicate and handle those stunts effectively, but in the last month or so something has finally clicked there and they’ve been much better at passing rushers off to one another. On top of that, Watson finally being more healthy himself has contributed to their improvement in sack and pressure rate because he’s been able to use that mobility to escape some sure sacks and turn them into big gains. That element certainly cannot be overlooked.
But in terms of weaknesses, if you rush five at them (without any stunts) and force them to block everyone one on one they can still struggle quite a bit — especially if those extra bodies are just used to clog up escape lanes and keep Watson in the pocket. I think the Browns defensive line is probably the last thing they want to see right now because they can send four or five at you with nothing fancy and just wreck the game. Overall I think Cleveland has a big advantage in the trenches on that side of the ball for that reason alone.
Q: Tell us about one player on offense and one player on defense who Browns fans may not know, but who has played a nice role for Houston this year.
Brett: Kareem Jackson has been an absolute animal this year regardless of what position he’s playing, whether it be corner or safety. He’s arguably the best tackler on the team and is a demon in run support out on the edges, and he’s been jumping routes and making big plays on the ball over the middle a lot more often this season as well. This might be the best year he’s ever had in Houston, and that’s saying something considering he’s a 10-year vet.
On offense, KeKe Coutee has been electric when he’s actually healthy (which is almost never). Houston has been trying to find a dangerous weapon out of the slot ever since Bill O’Brien came to town, and in Coutee they finally have that. He’s a fantastic route runner and can win on third down with startling regularity, but he’s also a threat to take any short pass for a big gain after the catch with his quickness and vision in space. Unfortunately a hamstring injury that has lingered since training camp has really limited his overall production this year, but man when he’s healthy … look out.
Thanks again to Brett for taking the time to answer our questions.