(Three points of interest in Sunday’s game)
GOING THE RIGHT WAY
Baker Mayfield has a good opportunity to continue his positive momentum into the second half of the season. The Texans rank 23rd against the pass (257.4 yards), 30th overall (416.9) and 29th in scoring (30.3). They have only two interceptions through eight games, and opposing quarterbacks have completed 69.2 percent with 18 touchdowns and a league-high 111.2 passer rating. As long as the wind and rain aren’t huge factors, Mayfield should have plenty of chances to build on the sublime performance vs. the Bengals and the solid effort in tough conditions against the Raiders.
The coaches spent the bye studying the first half and finding ways to maximize Mayfield’s skill set.
“I do not think there is any major overhaul,” coordinator Alex Van Pelt said. “He has gotten better each week. When it comes to things like footwork, I think he is feeling much more comfortable now. You will see different things schematically that we have decided during the bye week that will be beneficial for us as an offense.”
Mayfield’s only previous experience vs. the Texans was a disaster. As a rookie in 2018, he threw three first-half interceptions in a 29-13 loss. He learned something.
“I would say pull my head out and do not turn the ball over multiple times the first half,” he said.
STILL THE MAN
At 31 years old and after a series of injuries, Texans defensive end J.J. Watt isn’t as dominant, but he’s still a force. In a win over the Jaguars last week, Watt showed his playmaking ability with a sack — the 100th of his career — a forced fumble and two quarterback hits as he played 68 of 69 snaps. For the year he has four sacks, two forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, three passes defensed and eight quarterback hits.
“J.J. is an ultimate professional in the classroom, on the practice field and on the game field,” Texans interim coach Romeo Crennel said. “I could not ask any more from a player. He wants to win. He works to win.”
Watt was the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2012, ’14 and ’15. He ranks second in NFL history with .83 sacks a game and has 25 forced fumbles, 57 passes defensed and 45 games with multiple tackles for loss. Right tackle Jack Conklin will have Watt on his side the majority of the day, but rookie left tackle Jedrick Wills will get the occasional visit. As long as they don’t let Watt wreck the game, the offense should be able to exploit the Texans defense.
STOP RIGHT THERE
The game could come down to which bad defense gets a critical stop or two. That’s far from a given for either unit.
The Browns rank 30th in the NFL, as opponents have converted 48.5 percent on third down. The Browns are worse on fourth down, allowing 13 of 14 to be converted. The Texans are only slightly better, ranking 25th on third down (47.7 percent) and allowing seven of 10 on fourth down. Punts could be an endangered species on the lakefront, especially considering the Browns have forced a total of one in their last two games.
The Browns relied on 14 takeaways in the first half but can’t base their defensive approach solely on them. They would really benefit from ends Olivier Vernon and Adrian Clayborn and tackle Sheldon Richardson getting to the quarterback on third and fourth down to take some of the load off end Myles Garrett.
The Browns’ record when scoring 30 points. They scored a total of 19 in the three losses.
Sacks allowed by the Browns, their lowest total through eight games since 2008.
First downs, the most for a Browns team through eight games since 1991.
The Browns returned from the bye week healthy, energized and ready to start the sprint to the playoffs. Browns 27, Texans 23.