Week 11 Preview: Houston Texans at Cleveland Browns

The Texans and Browns game features a pair of former Tom Brady understudies, Ryan Mallett and Brian Hoyer. They were never there at the same time, Hoyer moved on in the same offseason that the Patriots drafted Mallett. We know that Hoyer plays more of a game manager role in the pocket. He’s not a guy that will test you downfield, pretty much limited to short and intermediate passes. A conservative QB that will throw it away on third down if he has to, completely relies on the rest of the team. The three-headed backfield has been productive, favoring the hot-hand and benching any back that fumbles. Josh Gordon will give them a huge boost down the stretch, he returns next week. As for this game, they’ll ride the backfield to move the chains at home. Currently leading the AFC North at 6-3, the Browns are half a game ahead of the Cincinnati Bengals, with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens a full game back.

Nobody really knows about Mallett because he hasn’t played much. In preseason action, he didn’t complete a high percentage but has shown a big arm. Houston was patient and waited until their bye week to bench Ryan Fitzpatrick, it also gave Mallett two weeks to prepare for his first start. Andre Johnson is still a playmaker, his frustrations have mounted with a couple rough seasons with Matt Schaub and Fitzpatrick. DeAndre Hopkins is breaking out in his second season. Mallett will have a little more on his plate, now that Arian Foster has been ruled out for this week. At 4-5 they trail the Indianapolis Colts by two games in the AFC South.

If none of these teams can clinch their respective divisions, they are both in the hunt for one of the two wildcard spots. Right now it’s a 7-team race, with the other four teams in the picture winning their division. It’s tough to pick Houston on the road, despite coming off a bye, because the quarterback is making his debut. Mallett will take shots downfield but the Cleveland defense has been on a roll, led by safety Tashaun Gipson. The Browns allow the 6th fewest points. The Texans are 11th and they’ve forced more turnovers and scored more defensive touchdowns. Offensively, they both score about the same with similar statistics, with the Browns having better balance. That is why the Texans made the switch, and although they rank 4th in rushing, they need Alfred Blue to have a Foster-like performance.

Mike Pettine, head coach of the Browns, is a defensive guy. With his team in mid-season form, the game may be too fast for the inexperienced Mallett. A lack of game film is something that he has in his advantage coming into this one. J.J. Watt is doing his best to runaway with another Defensive Player of the Year award. It helps that Brian Cushing and Jonathan Joseph will return to the field this week. On the flip-side, Joe Haden has locking down lately. Bill O’Brien, head coach of the Texans, is known for his work with quarterbacks.

There is a chance of snow in Cleveland for this AFC matchup with playoff implications, with winds up to 25 miles per hour and temperatures in the 30s. That type of weather caters to the ground game, which both of these teams focus on to begin with.

Things are good in Cleveland right now and their quarterback has shown the ability to take care of the football. These are first-time NFL head coaches. In the battle between the offensive O’Brien and the defensive Pettine, signs point to Cleveland winning their 4th game in a row. O’Brien used to work for Bill Belichick, while Pettine was under Rex Ryan. Expect a physical, low-scoring affair, with no more than 20-21 points scored by the victor.

Browns over Texans 20-16.