The Texans defense dominated Baker Mayfield and the Cleveland Browns to move to 9-3 on the season and have won 9 straight for the longest active winning streak in the NFL.
The Browns struggled early in the game with Baker Mayfield throwing three interceptions to Zach Cunningham, Jonathan Joseph, and Andre Hal, who recently returned to the team after beating cancer earlier this year. Cunningham’s interception was returned for a touchdown after review. Penalties hurt the Browns too (6-45), allowing Deshaun Watson and the Texans to move down the field on uncompleted passes and short runs.
While penalties hurt the Browns throughout the game there were obvious penalties missed, both on DeAndre Hopkins. The first occurred after Hopkins caught a pass and was thrown to the ground after the whistle had been blown. Not long after, a clear hold on Hopkins was missed as well.
The Browns 4th turnover came after a massive 77-yard catch from Antonio Callaway who made it to the 2-yard line before losing the ball on a forced fumble from 3rd round pick Justin Reid. Reid is proving to be a mid-round steal for the Texans, having come up with big plays all season long. Callaway had another big catch of 76 yards called back due to a holding penalty.
Although the Texans defense was the highlight of the game the Browns succeeded once again in keeping opposing defenses to 0 sacks. While Mayfield was pressured throughout the game he managed to escape the pocket or throw the ball away to keep that streak alive.
Even though Mayfield struggled early, going 5-13 for 46 yards and 3 interceptions in the first half, he came out for the second half and threw for over 300 yards and a touchdown. Nick Chubb added a 2-yard run in the third quarter to finally get the Browns on the board.
While the Texans were in control for the entire game their offense was not too efficient throughout, scoring only one offensive touchdown (an 11-yard pass to tight end Jordan Thomas). However, kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn was perfect for the day hitting 35, 42, 48, 53 and then a 38-yard field goal to help the Texans build their lead over the Browns.
Deshaun Watson went 22-31 for 224 yards and a touchdown while adding 30 yards on the ground with seven carries. DeAndre Hopkins, who was held without a score for the second straight week, had seven receptions for 91 yards.
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Bill O’Brien’s commitment to the run game paid off once again. Lamar Miller rushed for 103 yards on nineteen carries and Alfred Blue rushed for 54 yards but had a late touchdown run called back due to a holding penalty.
Jarvis Landry, who has been an anomaly this year, secured six receptions for 103 yards. While Landry has garnered the majority of targets he has proven to be inefficient with those targets. The Texans run defense showed up again today allowing only 31 rush yards to Nick Chubb, who added 41 yards on three receptions.
While the Texans win streak is indeed impressive there are some glaring issues Bill O’Brien will need to solve in order to contend in the playoffs. The Texans, who have accumulated a lot of penalties throughout the season, went 5-77 on penalties. Recent pickup DeAndre Carter had two fumbles that were, luckily, recovered by the Texans. He had a fumble against the Titans last week as well. For a team that has struggled on special teams for several years, Carter was supposed to be someone who could help push them over the top with speed, but so far he’s proven to be a risky play.
Injuries to the offensive line came back up as well. They lost Kendall Lamm to a concussion and Zach Fulton with a hand injury making a depleted offensive line even shakier.
These issues have the potential to keep the Texans from moving far into the playoffs, but the fact that they have won nine games in a row despite these issues is not something that should be ignored. Deshaun Watson, JJ Watt, Kareem Jackson, and Jadeveon Clowney are all healthy together for the first time for a prolonged period of time and the Texans are showing what they can do when their big playmakers are all on the field. Those players, combined with the explosive big-play ability by DeAndre Hopkins and defensive players Justin Reid and Tyrann Mathieu, the Texans are well-positioned to win the AFC South and enter the playoffs a top seed.
The Texans host the Indianapolis Colts next week who are now 6-6 after losing to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
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