The Browns are coming off a frustrating loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, while the Texans took advantage of rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence and overmatched head coach Urban Meyer to take down the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Cleveland will be looking to mirror the 2020 season, where they lost in Week 1 then used the home opener to embark on a four-game winning streak.
Here is what you need to know about the game, along with a few storylines to watch, as the Browns look to win their second consecutive home opener.
Records: Cleveland is 0-1. Houston is 1-0.
Kickoff: 1 p.m.
Stadium: FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland
TV: WOIO CBS
Announcers: Greg Gumbel, Adam Archuleta, AJ Ross (sidelines)
Radio: 92.3 The Fan (WKRK), ESPN 850 WKNR and WNCX (98.5)
Announcers: Jim Donovan, Doug Dieken, Nathan Zegura (sideline reporter)
Last meeting: The Browns won the last meeting, 10-7, in Week 10 of the 2020 season. (Boxscore)
All-time series: Houston leads the all-time series 7-4, although three of Cleveland’s wins against the Texans have come at home.
Weather: 76 degrees and sunny, with no chance of rain (weather.com)
Uniform: The Browns will be wearing their classic brown jerseys with white pants
Injury report: Browns - Questionable: cornerback Troy Hill (hamstring/foot), center JC Tretter (knee), wide receiver Anthony Schwartz (knee) and guard Michael Dunn (back). Out: wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. (knee) and offensive lineman Chris Hubbard (tricep).
Texans - Questionable: tight end Pharaoh Brown (ankle/shoulder) and linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill (illness). Out: quarterback Deshaun Watson (not injury related).
The line: Browns -12.5
A Few Things to Watch For
Who has Baker’s backside?: The Browns are dealing with a potentially major issue on the offensive line as starting left tackle Jedrick Wills Jr. is questionable with an ankle injury and veteran backup Chris Hubbard is out with a triceps injury.
If Wills is unable to go after not being able to practice all week, then the Browns are expected to turn to either Blake Hance, who has 47 snaps of experience at the NFL level, or rookie James Hudson III, the club’s fourth-round draft pick in 2021 who was inactive for the season opener.
A new safety: Safety Grant Delpit is expected to make his NFL debut on Sunday after missing the entire 2020 season with a torn Achilles and being inactive for the Week 1 game against the Chiefs.
While head coach Kevin Stefanski did not say how much Delpit will play, it will be interesting to see how acclimates back into the flow of the game after missing so much time. And is safety Ronnie Harrison Jr. can keep his hands to himself when he is near Houston’s coaching staff, we may get to finally see defensive coordinator Joe Woods unleash his preferred three safety defense of Delpit, Harrison and John Johnson III.
Protect the ball: The Browns had two turnovers in the second half against the Chiefs, not counting punter Jamie Gillan dropping a routine snap on a punt that was essentially a turnover, that all contributed to their loss. Likewise, the Texans forced three turnovers in their opening win against Jacksonville as they intercepted rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence three times while not turning the ball over themselves.
Cleveland might be able to get away with a turnover or two against the Texans, but keeping a clean sheet would be preferable as one of the few ways that Houston might be able to stay in the game is by forcing turnovers and creating a short field for their offense.
The man in the middle?: The Browns placed starting linebacker Anthony Walker on injured reserve on Friday as he is the latest in a growing list of players who are dealing with hamstring injuries.
Stefanski said the coaches are still working out just how will take Walker’s snaps, with Malcolm Smith and Elijah Lee being part of a plan to “rotate linebackers,” according to Stefanski.
In addition to replacing Walker on the field, the Browns will need to designate a player to take over Walker’s roll as the signal caller on defense. Safety John Johnson III, who called the signals last season while he was with the Los Angeles Rams, is an option, as is the veteran Smith, who is a bit more familiar with Woods’ defense after playing in Cleveland last season.
Next man up at wide receiver: With wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. out for the game, there will once again be opportunities for the team’s deep wide receiver room.
Last week it was rookie Anthony Schwartz, who finished with three receptions for 69 yards and rushed once for 17 yards. This week it might be time for Donovan Peoples-Jones, who was only targeted once in Week 1 despite playing the second-most offensive snaps among the wide receivers.
No matter who is on the field, quarterback Baker Mayfield needs to do what he does best in the passing game, which is to spread the ball around rather than focus on getting a single player involved. Mayfield targeted nine different players against the Chiefs, with tight end David Njoku, Landry and Schwartz leading the way with five targets each.
That has proven to be a recipe for success in the past, and Mayfield should be able to keep it rolling against the Texans.
Same names, different uniforms: For reasons that might only be clear to him, Houston general manager Nick Caserio made the decision to load the Texans’ roster with as many former Cleveland players as he could find.
Browns fans will be familiar with quarterback Tyrod Taylor, linebacker Christian Kirksey, safety Eric Murray, tight end Pharaoh Brown, cornerback Terrance Mitchell, cornerback Tavierre Thomas, and offensive lineman Justin McCray, who are all currently on Houston’s roster. Former Cleveland defensive lineman Vincent Taylor is also with the Texans, but is on the injured reserve list after suffering an ankle injury in Week 1.
A final quote
Kevin Stefanski (via a team-provided transcript):
“I want to get the message out that Coach Stefanski wants you in your seats at kickoff — no empty seats. I want full-throated effort for all 60 minutes. Get out of the Muni Lot, get into your seat and you can go back to the Muni Lot after the game. You make a difference, and I really believe that. The home advantage in the NFL is such a big deal, and I think our fans make a difference.”
These are just a few things to keep an eye on; now it is time to have your say. What are you looking for from the Browns in Sunday’s game against the Texans?