The Houston Texans and Cleveland Browns share the experience of being the two most recent NFL expansion franchises that were born out of former teams who left; only to become division rivals upon their reentry to the sport.
More recent times have a parallel with two teams on the rise behind some dynamic playmakers on defense and player’s fans believe to be franchise quarterbacks at the helm. The 2018 version seems to favor the Texans, but they don’t keep score by what has been done in past weeks.
Here we go.
The national media firestorm this week has been all about Baker Mayfield’s comments postgame about Hue Jackson. Should he have showed more respect? Was he correct to snap back at Jackson? Was the media response an over-reaction?
Bode: There are few instances where I want a current Browns player, coach, or executive putting a former one on blast. However, this was one of those cases. SB Nation’s Jon Ledyard said it best when he wrote “After the game Mayfield’s position was clear: you’re one of us, bought in completely for what is best for the team, or you’re the enemy. Period.”
Gilbert: I loved what Mayfield has said this week. He is being real and not trying to be what others want him to be. He is the voice of the locker room that was treated and led horribly by Hue Jackson. Mayfield is being a leader in getting the message out on what the locker room truly felt about Jackson. He was correct in what he said. Jackson didn’t give respect to anyone in the organization, so Jackson did not deserve respect. The media response, especially from the national media, shows how ill-informed they were of what Jackson did to this franchise. The media focused on the horrible record, but Jackson also threw numerous people under the bus, both players and management. The media has no idea how Jackson affected the locker room. So, the Browns players were in the right and the media was a huge over-reaction to a locker room that felt totally disrespected by their former coach.
Frank: Had no problem at all with anything he said. I love how he is all in and embracing being the face of this franchise. Why should he have to remain quiet when all Hue did on his media tour is repeatedly put him down?
Poloha: He did exactly what he should have. It’s just who he is. Baker wears his emotions on his sleeve. There’s nothing wrong with being the type of person you are, especially in a situation like that. The media response was absolutely an overreaction, then again, the media tends to do that a lot.
Scott: I love what Baker said, and I love what he said in a follow-up when pressed on his initial comments. Certain media members are doing everything in their power to cast Mayfield as a punk, something many have attempted to do since the Draft Combine. Since the draft, however, all Mayfield has done is put up Rookie of the Year numbers, turning around a zero-win franchise. Alas, the opportunities to point and yell “see!” have been absent. I’ll forever be pro-transparency and honesty when it comes to athletes or coaches and the media. If that rubs some dinosaurs the wrong way, so be it.
Has Mayfield’s play in his rookie season put to bed the narrative that rookie quarterbacks are best served by sitting on the bench for a season?
Bode: The narrative has always been dumb. Once a quarterback understands the playbook to the extent an offensive coordinator is comfortable with developing a gameplan around them, then the only question that should remain is “Who is the best quarterback on our roster to win this week?” If that happens to be a rookie, then they should play and learn on the field. If it is not, then they should be challenged to become better than the veteran starting ahead of them. Keep it simple.
Gilbert: I don’t necessarily think it puts it to bed. I always thought that this was a case-by-case basis situation. Some quarterbacks need time to sit and watch, while others are ready to go from the start and need to play to learn. This is not a uniformed situation. Different players require different treatment.
Frank: Just as Aaron Rodgers does not win for the other side of this argument Baker does not end it for this side. Like Gilbert said this is a case by case type deal.
Poloha: It’s definitely different on a case-by-case basis for different quarterbacks, but it’s clear that Baker should have been the starting quarterback from Day 1. The fact that he didn’t receive any first-team reps during training camp is yet another embarrassing act by Hue. Mayfield clearly gets it and is already the face of the franchise, but that doesn’t mean that he should change the narrative for other rookie quarterbacks.
Scott: As someone who was fully on board Baker learning for a year, I’m thrilled to have been wrong. That said, there will still be kids like Patrick Mahomes who can benefit from sitting if they’re sitting behind the right guy. As much as we want to live in a world of absolutes, there will always be specific instances where going against the grain isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Outside of Mayfield, who have been the best offensive assets these last few weeks?
Bode: Freddie Kitchens, offensive coordinator. Obviously. He is starting to get nationally recognized for it too as seen in this great article by USA Today’s Doug Farrar.
Gilbert: Nick Chubb has been the best offensive asset the last few weeks. He has been centerpiece of the run game that is now a huge part of the offensive scheme. His presence is something defenses must account for. Chubb has been excellent in the run game, but also in the pass game. He is positively affecting so much for the offense.
Frank: Kitchens is the easy answer here, but I have been really excited by the play of the Offensive line. Kitchen’s attention to getting the ball out quick has obviously helped, but these dominant showings don’t happen without the vast improvement they have displayed.
Poloha: Nick Chubb. The dude’s an absolute animal and makes plays with the ball in his hands, no matter where he is on the field. To see him have the success he’s had during his rookie season is somewhat surprising, but just adds to an impressive group of rookies for the Browns. Seems as though eating Brock Osweiler’s $16 million salary last season in order to get that second-round pick was the right thing to do considering it brought back Chubb. The other guy has been Kitchens, as the other writers pointed out. He’s been a game-changer.
Scott: It’s tough to not go with Nick Chubb, but just to add a little flavor to this one I’m going to go with David Njoku who has not only caught the football, but done so in crucial situations. That touchdown last week was a bit of a fluke in how it came to pass, but it was Njoku who put himself in the position to leap for the end zone—even if the leap was from the five-yard line. He’ll never be a plus blocker, but that’s not why he was drafted in the first round. Knowing how tight ends take time to develop, if I’m a Browns fan (spoiler: I am) I’m very pleased with his growth year over year.
The Browns and Texans made two big trades that are heavily affecting this season for both teams. The Browns acquired the No. 35 pick (Nick Chubb) in the 2018 NFL Draft for taking on the contract of Brock Osweiler. Then, the Browns traded away the No. 12 pick (Deshaun Watson) in the 2017 NFL Draft for the No. 25 pick (Jabrill Peppers) and the No. 4 pick (Denzel Ward) in the 2018 NFL Draft. Which team won these deals?
Bode: Even accounting for the depressed value on running backs, the Browns should have no problem having excess value in the return Chubb gives them compared to the paltry $17 million the team paid for the pick.
On the other trade, if we are to believe Hue Jackson (a dangerous proposition, I know), then the Browns would have selected Malik Hooker. It is quite obvious they were not going to take Deshaun Watson, at least, as they wouldn’t have traded the pick away if he was their guy. So, the Browns wind up with two good defensive backs instead of one. The Texans found their franchise quarterback though he suffered an injury already. The rare win-win swap.
Gilbert: The Browns won the Osweiler trade in a landslide. The Browns took on money and got their franchise running back for years to come. The second trade seems to be a wash. The Texans look like they got their franchise quarterback. But, the Browns got two key pieces on their defense, including their No. 1 cornerback. The Browns got their franchise quarterback the following year. I believe Baker Mayfield is better than Deshaun Watson, so the fact that they gave up the chance to get Watson is not a big deal anymore because they got Mayfield who is the better quarterback, in my opinion.
Frank: The Osweiler trade narrative was dumbfounding to me. It was creative and a no-brainer. The fact that they turned it into Chubb only validates it more. The Watson trade is more complicated but as those before me have mentioned it ultimately worked out beautifully for both sides.
Poloha: Had no idea this question was next when I mentioned the Osweiler trade in the previous answer. Given that Houston found a franchise quarterback, it’s hard to say that they didn’t win the deals. With that said, getting Chubb, Peppers, and Ward has obviously made a huge impact this season (and beyond). Both teams won the trades in their own, seperate way.
Scott: As tough as it was watching Watson last season, I think both teams won as both teams obtained what they needed, but this only cements the notion that the Osweiler deal was next-level thinking. While the downside is that of paying a guy to not play on your team while many other players (Joe Haden, for example) deserved more money than they were being paid, collateral damage aside, the deals were extremely well executed. If anything, I’m just excited that it puts to bed the dummies who were saying “why obtain picks when you’re just going to blow them anyway?”
Can the offense continue rampaging against a much more formidable opponent this week?
Bode: Doubtful. I have enjoyed beating up on bad defenses these last few weeks, but the Texans present a much tougher challenge. The defense is ranked No. 4 in the NFL by Football Outsiders and it is tough to argue with the distinction as long as both Jadaveon Clowney and J.J. Watt remain healthy. In addition, the Browns are 10-for-10 converting red zone opportunities into touchdowns these past three games. While Kitchens deserves kudos for the schemes, a normal regression would suggest it will not continue at such an amazing clip.
Gilbert: I think this is the biggest test of the remaining season. The Texans pass rush is incredibly good and it will put the Browns offensive line to the test. The Browns offensive line have played so well over the last few weeks. I think offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens will be the key to continuing the success of the offense. He will need to help out the line versus the Texans pass rush. So, establishing the run game, getting the ball out quickly and helping out the weak parts of the line with aid should be used to help against the Texans. I am confident that Kitchens will do this and I believe Baker Mayfield is really good and can threaten any defense in the league.
Frank: I am drinking the Kool Aid!! Baker will continue to impress and I will have many highlight packages to watch Sunday night.
Poloha: They haven’t gotten a true test from a solid defense since Kitchens took over, but what they have done the last couple weeks has been quite impressive. If they can continue their impressive performance offensively this week, then I will really, really start to believe. Sunday will be interesting.
Scott: You play who’s in front of you. That said, to echo the above, Houston will clearly be their toughest task. Marcus Mariota was nearly perfect last week and the Titans were doubled on the scoreboard. Baker is going to have to be quick and decisive and the offensive line is going to have to give him space. There’s a reason why the Browns are touchdown underdogs in this one.
What are the keys to the defense slowing down the Texans offense? Is stopping Lamar Miller or Deshaun Watson the priority?
Bode: The Tennessee Titans had the appropriate idea, just terrible execution. A defense must first stop Watson and DeAndre Hopkins from tearing them apart and rely on their defensive front to limit the rushing attack. However, Lamar Miller demonstrated on Monday Night Football that if that front leaves large seams, then he is quite capable of exploiting them for big gains. The Browns defense will be challenged to be disciplined in their approach with an offense that is quite similar to the Kansas City Chiefs, who gave them severe issues. Turnovers–a Gregg Williams favorite–will likely be the difference between bend-don’t-break and broken.
Gilbert: The key to slowing down the Texans offense will be getting pressure on Deshaun Watson, but also keeping him in the pocket when doing so. Watson is the priority for the Browns defense, in my opinion. Watson can kill you when he gets out of the pocket, using both his arm and legs. So, the Browns need to pressure Watson to create mistakes, but also not let him to scramble away and get out of the pocket where he can make plays. Containing Watson is the key.
Poloha: Pressure and keeping DeAndre Hopkins in check. If Denzel Ward and company can somewhat slow down Hopkins, it will be huge. Watson and Miller will do what they do, but stopping one of the best receivers in the game is key. If the Browns can apply pressure to Watson and Houston’s backfield, that will greatly affect things as well. The less time Watson has, the better.
Scott: It starts with Watson. I would expect the Browns to spy him with someone—my vote would be Jabrill Peppers. From there, it’ll be Denzel Ward and Damarious Randall guarding those sideline routes of Hopkins. I’m not especially worried about Lamar Miller (famous last words, I know) and think the front seven should be fine in winning that battle. I worry much more about Watson nabbing first downs with his legs and Hopkins just being Hopkins.
Is there any chance the Browns can continue their winning ways and stop the seven-game winning streak of the Texans?
Bode: It sure doesn’t feel like it. The Texans are strong in all phases of the game and are NFL-healthy for a December match up. Mayfield will need to match blow-for-blow with Watson and Myles Garrett will need to be as good as the combination of Clowney and Watt. It’s a tall task.
Gilbert: Yes, there is a chance. The Browns offense is really rolling under Mayfield and Kitchens. The offensive line has performed much better. The run game has been productive every week. I think this game will be a shootout. The Browns should be able to stay with them and I do not think it is impossible for them to beat the Texans. The Browns can win.
Frank: Going all Joe Namath here. The Browns will absolutely win and it will not be particularly close. Get used to winning, Browns fans. Gonna be happening alot around here.
Poloha: There’s always a chance, especially with the squad the Browns have. It seems weird to say that, usually I’m just like, “nah, the Browns are going to get blown out or find a way to lose.” This is fun. Whether they win or lose I’ll be happy if it’s close in the end.
Scott: There’s an element that the Browns played their Super Bowl last week given all the fan fare with Jackson and coming off the bye with a win the week before. That said, this will be an even more interesting test as they can show whether or not last week was a product of simply better football from a talented and growing team, or if it was one that was riding on the F-U emotion of everything that transpired the weeks prior.