Another big day
Without its stars, the Texans defense dominates Cleveland 33-17
Check out more of Brien's work on houstonsportsandstuff.com
The Texans caught a break this week after losing J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus for the season in week 5, hosting the winless Browns at home. The expectations were that the offense would be the difference in the game while the defense adjusted to the big losses in their front seven. Little did anyone know, the defense wouldn't skip a beat and perform better than expected in the 33-17 win. It is the Browns, so there is no way to know what will happen going forward; but getting this week and the bye week to game plan for how the defense will be used is key to figuring out what the Texans will look like going forward.
Early on the offense appeared to be continually growing under the play calling of Bill O'Brien and the performance of Deshaun Watson. From the start there was a lot more throws over the middle to tight ends and consistent running plays in short and mid range down and distance. It may have been an early attempt to control the clock which has keyed a lot of their offensive success this year, but it helped keep the offense in good down and distance.
The first drive of the game looked great but stalled in Browns territory and walked off the field with a Ka'imi Fairbairn field goal. After exchanging punts the Browns were able to get something going and tied the game at 3 with a field goal of their own. That was as close as it would get. The Texans moved the ball 87 yards in five plays on their next drive for Watson's 13th touchdown pass of the season. He connected with Will Fuller for the 5th time this season. Fuller now had 5 touchdown catches in 7 total receptions. From there it was pretty much all defense.
The very next drive saw Kevin Hogan march the Browns down to the Texans 22-yard line but sail a pass over the head of Duke Johnson and into the arms of Jonathan Joseph for an 82-yard touchdown. A missed extra point left the score 16-3 but that was fixed shortly after. The next Browns drive ended in another interception, this time by Dylan Cole. A gasp went through the crowd again and Cole was injured on the return and limped off the field. It was the second injury of concern on the drive as Jadeveon Clowney had gone down earlier, and they could not afford to lose him for the season. Clowney's injury wasn't serious and he was back on the field before the end of the drive, but Cole's hamstring would keep him out for the rest of the game.
Watson would get another touchdown on a shovel pass to Braxton Miller and go into the into the half with a 24-3 lead after tossing a successful 2-point conversion to Ryan Griffin. The first half would end with Joseph getting his second interception of the game, and the 13th in a Texans uniform giving him the franchise record, passing his teammate Kareem Jackson.
Bill O'Brien was 20-0 when leading at the half and the win today would make it 21-0. This was especially assured when the defense started the second half playing like it was ready to win the game on its own. They would force a 3-and-out on the Browns first drive and then record a safety on the next Cleveland possession. The Texans capitalized on the free kick with another Watson touchdown throw, this time to DeAndre Hopkins putting the game well out of reach, 33-3. Watson has now thrown at least three touchdowns in the last three games, making him the first rookie to do so. That is the kind of performance that can carry a team a long way.
He would make one mistake though, on a second and 5 play from the Houston 32 yard line he threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown by Jason McCourty, making the score 33-10. Hogan would get a garbage time touchdown to Seth DeValve cutting the final score down to 33-17 but that would be it. The Texans would walk away with an easy home win and a break to prepare for a tough road game in Seattle.
At the end of the day it was the kind of all-around game that you expect from an above average team against a franchise in line for another first overall pick. The Texans' offense would finish the day with 217 yards through the air and three touchdowns and an additional 123 on the ground. The Texans had nearly equal time of possession despite getting defensive scores and great field position. Their record sits at 3-3 with games against Seattle and Indianapolis coming up after the break. If they can keep up this level of play they will find themselves in a good position going into the latter half of the regular season.