Mandatory Credit: Photo by David J Phillip/AP/Shutterstock (13272262jg) Houston Texans quarterback Kyle Allen (3) throws a pass against the San Francisco 49ers during an NFL preseason football game, in Houston 49ers Texans Football, Houston, United States – 25 Aug 2022
Cleveland Browns (4-7) at Houston Texans (1-9-1)
Game time: Sunday, Dec. 4, 2022, noon CT
TV/Radio: KHOU-11 (CBS)/ KILT-AM 610/KILT-FM 100.3/KLOL 101.1FM (Spanish)
What’s at stake: The pride of Houston against the pariah of Houston. This game marks the first game back from suspension for former Texans and current Browns QB Deshaun Watson. It also marks the first game Watson has played in the city of Houston since his trade demand, followed by the sexual assault allegations and subsequent trade.
The Texans, for all intents and purposes, are playing for the number one pick; however, they can win this game and still have the worst record in the NFL. Most fans would likely be ok if this game is the only other one they win all year if they land the top pick. A win against Cleveland would improve the Texans’ draft stock as they would still have the number one pick, but the pick Cleveland would owe them would be better, so Houston has multiple incentives to win this game besides beating the QB who quit on them.
For the Browns, they are hoping to get on a run and make a play for a Wild Card spot in the AFC playoffs. Their final five games following the Texans are: at Bengals, Ravens, Saints, at Commanders, at Steelers. That schedule indicates that if the Browns are going to make a run for the postseason, they need success against weaker teams like the Texans.
When the Texans have the ball: Houston really wants to get back to being a power running team and pound the rock with Dameon Pierce, who has been bottled up for the past two weeks. Houston Texans offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton discussed this week how other teams are lining up directly over all five O-Linemen and forcing everyone to win 1-on-1 blocks. Dare Ogunbowale is the change-up back. Rex Burkhead is questionable if he can clear the concussion protocol. If Burkhead cannot play, Eno Benjamin is next in line.
In the passing game, Brandin Cooks suffered a calf injury in practice on Thursday, and he is out. Nico Collins, Chris Moore, and Phillip Dorsett will be the top three wide receivers. Amari Rodgers could see his first action as a Texan. TE Brevin Jordan has been inactive three straight weeks, as Jordan Akins, OJ Howard, and Teagen Quitoriano have handled duties there. The offensive line will need to keep Kyle Allen, making his second consecutive start, upright and give him time the throw. Houston has gotten into a pattern of throwing mostly short passes in early drives, so it may be important for them to throw the ball down the field earlier.
When the Browns have the ball: Deshaun Watson makes his first start since the end of the 2020 season, and some rust should be expected. The Browns two-headed monster running attack should feast against the Texans defense, with RBs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt licking their chops to get at the NFL’s worst run defense. Chubb already has 1039 yards (third in NFL) and 12 touchdowns (2nd). Houston is allowing an NFL worst 168.6 YPG on the ground to opponents.
Derek Stingley Jr. would normally draw the assignment to cover Amari Cooper, but since Stingley is still injured that responsibility will fall to CB Desmond King II. Tavierre Thomas will be the slot/nickel corner. Cooper is 13th in the NFL in receiving yards with 792. If Watson is able to shake off the rust, his ability to improvise on broken plays while being pursued could break the Texans.
Key Texans to Watch:
QB Kyle Allen: The Texans made it a point to let us know Allen had taken the lion’s share of the reps in practice this week. Allen must be faster and better in his decision making. Offensive Coordinator Pep Hamilton said earlier this week that Allen’s experience plus the extra reps he has gotten should help Allen make decisions just another tick faster. Another performance like last week’s and Davis Mills could be back from exile.
LG Kenyon Green: Green has been struggling badly for a month, missing blocks in both the pass game and run game. He was even removed from the game last week for Justin McCray. The interior of the Texans line has taken their lumps this year, and Green has failed to live up to the hype of a plug-and-play first round pick.
DB Desmond King II: King will likely draw the assignment of covering Browns top WR Amari Cooper with Derek Stingley Jr. still hampered by injury. Donovan Peoples-Jones has emerged as a weapon for Cleveland as a complimentary receiver to Cooper. Former Texan Pharaoh Brown is their backup tight end.
DL Maliek Collins: Collins and Jerry Hughes with need to find a way to get to Deshaun Watson. It would stand to reason that not quarterbacking for nearly two years would cause Watson to struggle somewhat with processing what he sees from the defense. Houston needs to get home to the quarterback, hit Watson, frustrate him, and force mistakes. It all starts up front with Collins.
The Bottom Line: This is another tough game for the Texans, but at least they have their former quarterback for motivation. If the Texans don’t come out motivated for this game, they aren’t coming out ready to play any game. Coaches should have players in an absolute frenzy, ready to take on the world.
Because they are the only one win team in the NFL, the Texans can beat Cleveland Sunday and still maintain the number one overall pick. The pick they own for Cleveland however, would improve with a Houston victory. The Browns remaining schedule is fairly tough so they need this game to keep their very faint playoff hopes alive.
The rushing attack of the Browns does figure to give the Texans fits, as Cleveland is fifth in rushing offense, averaging over 154 yards per game. The matchup would indicate this is a game where the Browns just bully the Texans physically, and make enough passes to compliment their running game. While this would be a great game for the Texans to win with Deshaun in town, it will be a tall order for them to do so.
However, Cleveland’s defense has been very disappointing. If Houston can get their run game going early, they could be in the game late.