The 6-3 Cleveland Browns will host the 4-5 Houston Texans at FirstEnergy Stadium this Sunday in hopes of improving their playoff chances. While the Browns don’t boast a prolific offense, or a stifling defense, they currently sit atop the AFC North. Below, I’ve highlighted items the Browns will need to focus on to come away with their seventh victory of the season.
He’s Not Almighty, Run at No. 90
While it may sound sacrilegious, the Browns cannot be afraid to run the football at talented rookie outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney. Clowney had a strong week of practice where he seemed to be nearing 100 percent, but games are much faster than practice and are exponentially more taxing on the body. The Browns should look to test Clowney’s conditioning early by running directly at him. Making Clowney defeat blocks early in the game should go a long way to mitigate his effectiveness as a pass rusher later in the game.
Get Your Pistol Ready
Putting Brian Hoyer in the pistol would certainly benefit the Browns, as it would give Hoyer more time to go through his progressions and identify his targets. The pistol working in tandem with short timing routes should help move the chains and tire out the defensive front. Andrew Hawkins (provided he’s healthy) and Taylor Gabriel could have outstanding games as a result as both wide receivers are exceptional running the football after the catch. Bubble screens to either player are merely extensions of the run game, and aid in setting up vertical throws down the middle of the field.
Watch for the Stunt
During the preseason, the Texans occasionally lined J.J. Watt and Clowney up on the same side and ran a stunt with the two players to free Clowney up. This tactic worked to perfection on multiple occasions, and I don’t think Texans’ defensive coordinator Crennel has jettisoned such a lethal approach. The Browns’ offensive linemen are going to have to be on alert when they see Watt and Clowney lined up on the same side. Setting up quickly and gaining proper depth will be necessary to successfully pass off stunting defensive linemen to one another.
Donte Whitner’s Life in the Alley
Quietly, Arian Foster is second in the NFL in rushing yards behind only Demarco Murray with 822 yards on the year. Luckily for the Browns, Foster has been ruled out with a groin injury. Rookie Alfred Blue will likely get the bulk of the carries for the Texans. At 6-foot-2, 222 pounds, and ability to catch the football out of the backfield, Blue presents a formidable challenge for the Browns. Browns’ head coach Mike Pettine spoke about the rookie running back earlier this week.
“He’s a quality back. I know the Giants game he played a lot. There’s not a huge drop off there. He’s a guy we knew coming out of LSU was a solid NFL back.”
Whitner is second on the Browns team with 62 tackles just behind Karlos Dansby who has made 69 tackles.
The Texans have had success on strong-side runs this season and the Browns will certainly need to rely on “spill defenders” (typically linemen and linebackers) to attack Blue’s inside half and force him to keep his pads perpendicular to the line of scrimmage.
Additionally the “Force defender” (who could be a CB or linebacker dependent upon personnel) will be counted upon to attacks the outside shoulder of the ball carrier. The “spill defender” and the “force defender” work in conjunction with one another to eliminate rushing lanes, which creates a natural alley. Whitner is the perfect “alley defender” as he is known for his toughness and tackling ability in the run game. Whitner will be extremely active this Sunday, but should have success when called upon to stop the Texans’ ground attack.
This Statue Has Limitations
Ryan Mallett will get his first career start this Sunday, and many are excited to see what the strong-armed quarterback from the University of Arkansas is capable of. While Mallet has traits of a prototypical-NFL quarterback, but he is flawed. In years past, Mallet has had difficulty with pocket presence and is typically unable to escape or sidestep oncoming pass rushers. His lack of mobility is compounded by an inability to make quick decisions with the football at the top of his drops. Browns’ defensive coordinator Jim O’Niel remains leery of Mallet’s ability to push the ball vertically down the field.
“We Might get some more shots down the field than what they did with Ryan Fitzpatrick. It’s a little uncomfortable. It’s kind of like going into a week-one matchup first game of the year.”
If Mallet hasn’t improved in his decision-making, it could be a long day for him as Paul Kruger has proven he is more than capable of getting after the quarterback.
Get Physical With Hopkins
Don’t look now but DeAndre Hopkins is in great company as he has the 12th most receiving yards in the NFL with 684. Buster Skrine will likely be given the task of matching up with Hopkins who is a precision route runner and has exceptional hands. To disrupt timing, Skrine should look to get his hands on Hopkins early and often throughout the contest. O’Neil praised Skrine for his play throughout the year.
“The thing I love about Buster is if there’s one guy on the defensive side of the ball that kind of represents that ‘Play Like A Brown,’ tough, accountable, 100-percent every play, that’s Buster.”
Skrine possesses greater athleticism compared to Hopkins, and it is imperative that he trusts his athleticism particularly on vertical routes to stay in Hopkins inside hip and make a play on the football.
More stories you might like