The Browns will look to beat the Texans in a game that feels like a must-win game after the Colts, Raiders and Dolphins all jumped ahead of them in the AFC playoff picture. The bye week came at a very opportune time as QB Baker Mayfield was placed on the COVID-19/Reserve list after he came into contact with a staff member who tested positive and he would have missed the game had there been one. That wasn’t the only COVID drama as on Friday, the Browns facilities were closed after OL Chris Hubbard tested positive, though no other players did, and team facilities were able to re-open in the afternoon. The Browns’ opposition on Sunday will be the Houston Texans, who have had a very disappointing 2-6 start (both victories coming over the Jacksonville Jaguars). Their offense has been very potent with QB Deshaun Watson leading the way, but their defense has been dreadfully allowing over 30 points a game. The Browns may need Mayfield to perform, but they should expect and need to win Sunday.
Key #1: Chubb Dominates on Return
RB Nick Chubb went down in Week 4 with a sprained MCL and was placed on injured reserve. While Chubb hasn’t been activated off the injured reserve, it is expected that he will be and that he will play on Sunday. The Texans are the worst in the league at stopping the run allowing 159.5 yards per game on the ground. The Browns haven’t scored a rushing touchdown since Chubb went down and even that was by WR Odell Beckham Jr. If Chubb can run the ball well, it’ll also allow RB Kareem Hunt to be a factor in the passing game, which is crucial since he leads the team in receiving touchdowns. This will also keep the high-powered Texans offense off the field.
Key #2: Bounce-Back Game for Baker
Baker Mayfield had the best game of his career three weeks ago in Cincinnati. He was then greeted with dropped passes, gusts of wind in the 40s and graupel (snow pellets). If the defense struggles as they did against the Bengals, Mayfield will need to play well to outscore Watson. He will be helped as RG Wyatt Teller, who was arguably the best offensive linemen in the league over the first five weeks, and TE Austin Hooper return from injuries. A big game will prove that the game against the Bengals wasn’t a fluke. However, it will be made tough by the fact that there is a 90% chance of rain as well as predicted winds in the high twenties.
Key #3: Contain Deshaun Watson
After DE Myles Garrett went down with an injury early against Las Vegas, he was a non-factor. While DE Olivier Vernon stepped up in his place, sacking Derek Carr twice, the two of them will face a much bigger challenge in the quick and shifty Watson. The quarterback has been running less than he did in his younger years, but he still has nearly 200 yards on the season. He could run more as the normal starting running back for the Texans, David Johnson, is out with a concussion. This also means that former Browns back Duke Johnson Jr. will get the start. If the Browns can not allow Watson to escape any sacks that will be a huge help for the defense.
Key #4: Watch for Will Fuller V
After the Texans shockingly traded away WR DeAndre Hopkins, WR Will Fuller and WR Randall Cobb became the leaders of the Texans receiving core. Both are on pace for 1000-yard seasons, but Fuller has been on an absolute tear, catching a touchdown in each of his last six games, going over 100 yards four times in the season and he’s gone over fifty yards all but twice this year. He also averages more than 16 yards a catch, which is in the top-10 in the league. If the Browns are able to stop Fuller’s stretch of scoring as well as containing him when he does get the ball, then they will have a good chance to win on Sunday.
Key #5: Do the Little Things
While a bye week is always a good time to get healthy and mentally/physically refreshed, it is also a chance to get unfocused. If the Browns come out sloppy, they will find themselves in a big hole early. They were sloppy last game, dropping passes, committing penalties and turning the ball over. They also had K Cody Parkey miss his first kick of the entire season, which was the nail in the coffin for the game. The Texans are better than the 2-6 record says they are, and if the Browns come out unfocused, then they will be beaten.
The Texans are a worse team than the Browns, but the Browns will still need to play well, execute their plan and be the better team to win on Sunday.