Browns/Texans: 4 Keys To Victory Week 16

December 22, 2023

Andy Billman Tony Camino

Cleveland Browns vs Houston Texans Matchups to Watch:

1 – Joe Flacco vs. Case Keenum

Andy –

At one point, this was supposed to be a reunion tour for Deshaun Watson versus the rookie sensation CJ StroudNow it is Joe Flacco and Case Keenum, and fortunately for the Browns, it is a massive advantage with Flacco over Keenum.  Flacco can make big plays and can carry the game on his back for Cleveland, while Keenum is simply a game manager.  The only concern with this is Flacco’s calf, as he has a strain in it, but it has been deemed nothing serious.

If the calf does not seriously hurt Flacco, it will be an advantage for Cleveland in the quarterback matchup.

Tony –

The once-promising Deshaun Watson vs. C.J. Stroud matchup has turned into a Joe Flacco versus our old friend Case Keenum showdown, giving a slight advantage to Cleveland. Flacco and Kevin Stefanski have developed a strong working relationship, and they both appear comfortable collaborating.

While Keenum is a capable quarterback, the Texans will be without many playmakers. Their success in the passing game hinges on running the ball effectively. On the other hand, the Browns are likely to rely heavily on passing, likely another game with 40-plus attempts. For the first time since Watson got hurt, the Browns finally hold a slight edge in the quarterback clash, making Sunday’s game a battle of veteran signal-callers.

2 – Browns OL vs. Texans DL

Tony –

This matchup is set to pose challenges for the Browns throughout the day, presenting the most significant obstacle for the Texans to secure a win. Houston boasts top-three rankings in both pass rush win rate and run stuff win rate, with a notable second-place standing in yards before contact. Standout players such as Will Anderson, Sheldon Rankins, and Jonathan Greenard have had impressive seasons, making them formidable opponents for the Browns’ offensive line.

On the Browns’ side, the hope is that Joel Bitonio can take the field and provide the unit with a sense of continuity. While Ethan Pocic is expected to be ready, the backup tackles may struggle against the formidable Houston front. Despite the Browns aiming to elevate their run game this week, the Texans’ strength against the run presents a considerable advantage for Houston and emerges as the primary area of concern for the Browns.

Andy –

Yes, the Browns have the advantage at quarterback, but the offensive line is a different story.  Cleveland has issues all over the place. Let’s start with the leaders of the line, the guards.  Joel Bitonio is not practicing as of Thursday, and Wyatt Teller is limited currently.  One has to figure it will be a game-time decision with Bitonio with Michael Dunn playing if he can’t go.  The center is also questionable, with Ethan Pocic still limited in practice, and LT Geron Christian is also limited.  Yikes!

Add to the fact the Browns o-line struggled last week, this is going to be a challenge going up against the Texans, who have talented rushers led by DE Jonathan Greenard.  Cleveland is going to have to be creative to keep Flacco upright and hopefully get some players back.  Advantage Texans.

3 – Turnovers

Andy –

The Browns’ turnover margin has been a struggle from the start of the season, and the opposite is true for the Texans.  Houston has turned it over the least by only giving it up 12 times all season compared to Cleveland, with 30 giveaways. Winning on the road starts and ends with turnovers. The Browns have coughed it up, and when they do, turn it over deep in near their goalline.  For the Browns to win, they must keep the turnover margin positive or at least even.

Tony –

Turnovers proved to be the sole reason the Bears had a chance in Week 15, with nearly all their points stemming from an interception. The Browns’ defense is currently performing at an exceptionally high level, making it challenging for opposing teams to advance down the field. If the offense can create difficult situations for their opponents, scoring opportunities will be scarce.

While the defensive turnover fortune has started to shift, the Bears benefited from some fumble-related breaks last week. Anticipating the Texans’ strategy to prioritize quick releases, the pass rushers must be proactive in attacking the ball when the opposition opts to drop back and air it out.

4 – Browns passing defense vs. Texans passing offense

Tony –

The Browns currently boast the top-ranked pass defense, according to the DVOA stat, a testament to their dominance fueled by an elite pass rush and solid coverage. Despite Denzel Ward being back on a limited snap count, the secondary has excelled when called upon.

Houston’s offensive line has performed well in pass protection, ranking eighth in pass rush win rate. However, they have yet to face a unit as formidable as the Browns’. To disrupt the Texans’ passing game, the Browns must apply consistent pressure on the quarterback. With Keenum impacting the passing attack and Houston’s receiving corps dealing with injuries, the Browns must prevent the Texans from finding success through the air. In this matchup, the Browns hold the advantage.

Andy –

The Texans have given up the 6th most sacks in the 2023 NFL season, ironically the same as the Browns.  In this match-up, the Browns should be able to get pressure on Keenum, and hopefully, this week, Myles Garrett will receive some help from the referees.  Look for Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah to help out again, as well as the Browns look to have a considerable advantage as the Texans are also not a strong running team, ranking in the bottom half in running the ball—advantage Browns.

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